Today is the Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist festival of Diwali, which dates back to ancient times and is mentioned in Sanskrit texts. Diwali is a celebration of the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana from 14 years of exile after Rama had defeated King Ravana.
It is believed that in order to help the three to see the path back from the forest, people lit lamps all along it. The lamps symbolised the sun, which is the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life.
During Diwali, people come together in celebration; they wear newly bought clothes, and prepare for the days ahead. They clean and decorate their homes, light candles inside and outside, and busy themselves visiting and receiving family and friends, and eating meals together. Fireworks light up the skies and the temples are full of worshippers giving thanks to various deities including Laxmi, goddess of wealth and prosperity (of all kinds) and Lord Ganesh, the remover of obstacles.
The themes of this celebration are compassion for others, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.The candles remind us of the significance of inner light over spiritual darkness, right over wrong, and self inquiry. Diwali asks us to ‘see’ the good in all aspects of our lives.
I remember as a child the air of celebration and joy during Diwali. My parents, siblings and I would spend the time visiting our ‘family’ of friends (our actual relatives were all back in India), and we would take offerings of freshly cooked food and Indian sweetmeats (which represent the sweet nature of the occasion) and celebrate the joy of life.
I have always felt that the symbolism of Diwali and its message is universally applicable and does not require a ‘religious’ leaning from anyone who chooses to embrace it. It is a time for cleaning the mind and clearing negativity and darkness and making room for compassion for others. Charities are given donations during this time, and even soldiers at the International Border (between India and Pakistan) give each other sweetmeats as a gesture of goodwill.
I believe in the inherent goodness of humanity, and sometimes feel we have simply lost sight of the path. We are all of us, after all, seeking the very things that Diwali represents- not many of us would argue otherwise- but we do need a reminder from the traditional celebrations that can be found in all religions and cultures to remind us of this fact.
In my Ayurvedic consultations, I too often see clients who have lost sight of themselves, perhaps travelled down a dark path and become lost and confused. Once we lose clarity in life, we tend to make choices that do not serve us well. So, we may eat the wrong foods, lead a frenetic lifestyle and get involved in unhealthy relationships. The state of confusion causes a cascade of events that can see us spiral out of control, and this then leads to ill-health, both of the body and mind.
The ancient festival of Diwali is incredibly pertinent today both for the individual and for society. We should all stop and think about how we can use its message in our own lives. As I reflect on what it means to me, I can see that when I work with my clients, all I have to do is to light the path so that they can find their way back.