Sunday, November 03, 2013

Diwali. On the Day of Lights.

The Golden Temple at Diwali
I am not one for religion, but I do enjoy a good compassionate tradition. Still, when it comes to religious tradition I always wonder if I should talk about them. On top of everything else, it isn't my tradition. Can I explain it well enough?

Yet for most of us, the traditions of the "other" religions are utterly alien, even when they consist of around one seventh of the world's population. (Yes, I am speaking of Hinduism. -- as well as Sikhism). So I hope I can, at least, bring some awareness and appreciation of these facets of our world.

Today is Diwali. the festival of lights

It is an interesting and enjoyable celebration. And it is a shame it's not more widely enjoyed and appreciated, for at least the spectacle it is.

Showkat Shafi - Al Jazeera
The point of the festivities is to celebrate the victory of light over dark, or good beating back evil. This ties into various Hindu beliefs and stories. For some, it's the return of Rama and Sita to rule their kingdom, Ayodhya, after a 14 year exile. In response to their return, the citizens lit lamps covering the city. (This occurs in the work, Ramayana.) Then there is the celebration of the victory of Krishna over Narakassura. Then there is the idea of celebrating Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Then there's the remembrance of Mahavira achieving nirvana. And in other places, it celebrates aspects of the goddess Kali. It has many meaning.

Yes, it has many religious meanings. But in the beginning it came out of ancient harvest celebrations. And that's something any culture should be able to grasp and enjoy. It also helps reflect South Asian culture, which too many of us are quite oblivious too, while all so concerned about what happen there.

What is Diwali?

Diwali means row of lighted lamps, or lights. And from the images that come out of the annual celebration, it is easy to understand just why.

Joe Mahoney - Times-Dispatch
To celebrate, every year at this time families and communities put on a celebration. Candles and lamps are lit, to bring the light into the night. (As per tradition, the lighted lamps draw in Lakshmi.) Decorations are put up. Sweets are made and gleefully consumed.

A rangoli.
Part of the tradition for many is giving the house a good cleaning, buying new clothes to wear, and drawing rangoli (patterns, often of a lotus) on the ground. As well, gifts of gold are often given. Gifts of fruits and sweets also can be given.

Gambling is another tradition. Diwali is said to be a time during which gamblers are looked down on positively. If one gambles, they will be blessed with prosperity in the coming.

And then there are the fireworks. In some traditions, it is meant to show higher powers how happy we are. But they also can help make the watchers plenty happy

Always remember, it's a festival, a party, a holiday! And every place populations celebrate, people bring their own style and sensibilities to the partying.

In some countries, the house is given a good cleaning, new clothes are bought and worn as part of the celebrations, and gifts of sweets and fruits are given. Then, the communal celebrations. Lights are strewn all around. And fireworks are set off.

Hopefully this gives some of you a superficial, but interesting understanding of what many (around a billion people) are celebrating today. It can be such a happy time. It is a time for hope. It is a time to look at the world and see the good in it. It is a time to put a fresh foot forward as you step into a new day.

Not a bad idea. So, Happy Diwali to those that celebrate it. And to everyone, a hope that you take the spirit of doing good to heart, see the good around you in the world, and realize there is always time and an opportunity to make positive changes in life.

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