Shining Light on the Festival of Lights

Padma Kuppa, Patheos, Oct.20,

We all look the same in the dark. But it’s better to shine light on our nation of glorious differences.

My neighbor’s daughter always knows when Diwali is: it’s when my Christmas lights go up. Diwali is also known by other names, such as Deepavali, or in English, the Festival of Lights. It is a holy day for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, with a different religious significance for each faith tradition. For ethnic Hindus, the various stories associated with it depend largely on their respective regional and cultural customs. It is celebrated across the land where it originated by almost everyone—similar to how Christmas is celebrated here in America.

Deepavali means a row of lights. Traditionally, deepa or diya, small clay lamps filled with oil, were lined up in rows in front of one’s home. Informational articles abound, such as this one from Hinduism Today. Many do not cover the myriad of stories and traditions surrounding Diwali—or only focus on one way of celebrating it, such as the understanding that the Hindu New Year is celebrated the day after Diwali, which is true only for a segment of the Hindu population. A popular story centers around the story of Rama, the avatar of Vishnu and successful hero of the epic the Ramayana, who is said to have returned from exile on this no-moon night. The light of the lamps illuminated the way for the virtuous hero to return home after he vanquished Ravana, the evil king who abducted Rama’s equally virtuous wife Sita. Rama is the Prince of Ayodhya and is perceived as the embodiment of all that is dharmic. Lighting the lamps is a metaphor for the victory of all that is good and just over all that is evil and unjust. Light is also knowledge, shining so that there is no room for the darkness of ignorance.

Read the complete article here.