Diwali, the festival of lights
This week Hindus in Bermuda and around the world celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights.
Diwali is one of the major Hindu festivals and is observed for five days during the Hindu month of Kartika. The dates change from year to year, however it always coincides with the new moon. This year the observations began on Tuesday and ended today.
The festival originated in the Indian sub-continent and is mentioned in early Sanskrit texts. Today it is considered India’s biggest and most significant holiday of the year and is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians.
Diwali is widely associated with the Hindu goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, but the spiritual significance of Diwali varies from region to region. The Hindu faith is a polytheistic religion and Diwali celebrates various deities.
In northern India, Diwali celebrates the story of King Rama's return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. In the southern parts of India, the festival honours the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. And in western India the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu – one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity – sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world.
Hindus interpret the Diwali story based upon where they live or where their family is from. But in each interpretation, there is one common theme – the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.
Diwali literally means “row of lights” and the festival gets its name from the row of clay lamps that Indians light outside their homes to symbolise the inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness. It symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.
The lights and lamps are said to help the Goddess Lakshmi find her way into people’s homes, bringing prosperity in the year to come.
In some cultures, the festival marks the transition into the winter season and the beginning of a new year.
It is estimated that over one billion people around the world are celebrating Diwali this year. While the Hindu community in Bermuda may be small, Diwali is still a deeply cultural holiday for those who observe it. Over the five-day festival families will gather to clean and decorate their homes with lights, exchange gifts and pray together for a prosperous future.
For Hindus, Diwali is also a time for dana (charitable giving) and seva (selfless service). Dana and seva are both ancient Indian practices that encourage cultivating generosity and service to humanity. This can take the form of small individual acts of kindness or larger philanthropic activities.
Over the centuries Diwali has become a festival that is also enjoyed by non-Hindu communities including Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.
Sikh followers celebrate the release of their sixth guru, Hargobind Singh, from prison in 1619 during Diwali. Those who follow Jainism celebrate Diwali as the time when their spiritual leader, Lord Mahavira, reached the state of Nirvana; for Buddhists, Diwali commemorates the day Emperor Ashoka decided to follow the path of Buddhism.
As ancient Indian practices of mindfulness and meditation have become trendier, the celebration of Diwali has become more widespread in western pop culture.
Regardless of the events or religion beliefs surrounding it, Diwali brings with it happy tidings and a promise of a better tomorrow – something we all could use a bit of right now.
Wishing you a Diwali that brings happiness, prosperity and joy to you and all your family.