Happy Diwali -- the Festival of Light (and the story of an epic romance)

BlogHer Original Post

Diwali begins Saturday. This is The Festival of Lights in Hindu, Jain and Sikh (and some Buddhist) traditions. President Obama reached out to the people of these traditions with this address, and a small ceremony at the White House.

Diwali can be up to 5 days in length (starting Saturday the 17th). Forms of celebration can differ widely depending on which religious community or country is celebrating. The Sikh community has a very different approach than the Hindu community, for example. But regardless of the community, the emphasis is on celebration, family and charity.

(from various sections of Wikipedia)
DIWALI and the Sikh community:
The story of Diwali for the Sikhs is a story of the Sikh struggle for freedom., starting from the time of Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539), the founder of Sikhism. When the Muslim king was ruling he locked up the Guru but while the king had tried to make him eat he refused and fasted. It was then realized that outside the palace people had gathered around with lanterns, candles, torches and protested to set the Guru free and the king had eventually agreed that his greediness had got in the way of his responsibilities and released the Guru and the people celebrated his release known as Diwali.

DIWALI and the Hindu community - The return of Rama
Lord Rama is pictured as the ideal man and the perfect human. For the sake of an old oath taken by his father in a moment of anguish, Rama abandons his claim to the throne to serve an exile of fourteen years in the forest. His wife, Sita, and brother Lakshmana, are bereft and join him in exile. Ravana, the demon monarch of Lanka, sees Sita and must have her, so he takes on the guise of a young deer, who captivates Sita and leads her into the forest while Rama is hunting. The demon then kidnaps her. After a long and arduous search for years that tests his strength,virtue and love for Sita, Rama fights a colossal war against Ravana's armies. In a war of powerful and magical beings, greatly destructive weaponry and battles, Rama kills Ravana and frees his wife. Having completed his exile, Rama returns to be crowned king in Ayodhya (the capital of his kingdom) and eventually becomes emperor,after which he reigns for eleven thousand years – an era of perfect happiness, peace, prosperity and justice known as Rama Rajya. The diya, or lights, were set out to welcome him home at the end of his exile.

Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth is also honored by Hindus during Diwali. Some businesses even start their financial year on Diwali. In order to ease Lakshmi's entrance, Hindus will leave the windows and doors of their houses open. Often, designs of the lotus flower, her favorite blossom, are drawn on the floor to welcome Lakshmi. The Diwali lamps are placed in rows to make it simple for Lakshmi to find her way to houses.

This in a drawing of Lord Rama and Sita, enthroned after Lord Rama's triumphant return.

I love the romance of this story -- Rama enduring many trials for many years in a devoted search for his beloved wife, who has been cruelly beguiled by another, masquerading as an innocent deer. And, after they are reunited, his triumphal return from exile. It is a sweet day when the devoted hero wins, and loved ones are reunited at last. This story is one of deep devotion, honor and perseverance. It ends, thankfully, in celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

The story of Rama and Sita is told in one of the two major books of epic poetry in the Hindu tradition -- the The Ramayana, which means "Rama's Journey", an ancient Sanskrit epic of over 24,000 verses. This book is considered so sacred that the reading if it is said to confer blessings on the reader and the listener. A translation of the Ramayana can be found here.

We wish a fine Diwali to all BlogHers who are celebrating it. May your year be sweet and prosperous.

RELATED BLOGS

Mariellen who describes herself as an "travel writer, yogi and Indiaphile" says:

Diwali means “rows of lighted clay lamps” and that is exactly how Indians decorate their homes on the evening of Diwali, as the light of the sun fades. I helped light hundreds of them two years ago when I was in Delhi celebrating Diwali with Ajay and his family. After a family puja in the prayer room, we all gathered on the terrace to add our fireworks to the cacophony of sight and sound over Delhi. Millions of people joyously, noisily celebrating, the sky ablaze with fireworks in every direction for hours. It’s a wonderful time of year to be in India. Shubh Deepavali!

Preethi J says that now is the time to turn off the media:

In our world of Facebook/Orkut/Twitter addictions, Blackberry thumbs and SMS responses, we seem to have forgotten how to function in the real world. How to reach out, share a joke, be naughty, be brave, believe, debate or just have a conversation with a neighbour.

This Diwali, log off the Internet, shut down the PC, retire the mouse, switch off your mobile and walk out of your home, socialise. Meet people and re-connect without mentally imagining what their profile would read or if you should remember to add them as a “friend” later.

It’s a complex life and Diwali makes it all simpler, brighter, more real. People are smiling, handing out sweets, donating blessings and it’s easy to escape the virtual world and re-join the real social network. Try it, have a blast!

Priya tells the story of Diwali (excerpted here):

Diwali is the festival of lights. The tradition of celebrations goes back to the ancient times & can be traced to the Golden days of Ayodhya. (A full account of this is a tale called Ramayana, a book available at all book stores selling Indian titles). The story unfolds like this - Lord Rama was sent on an exile for 14 years by his father Dashratha from the kingdom of Ayodhya... It is said that people welcomed him back by lighting clay oil lamps, hence illuminating the whole place, signifying the belief of victory of good over evil.

Americanepali the American half in a Nepali/American relationship gives her views on the acknowledgment of Diwali by the White House:

Although it was the Bush White House that began celebrating Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, in 2003, Obama became the first President to personally grace the ceremony — a brief affair that began with a rather incongruous performance by the well-regarded Hindi a-capella group Penn Masala, and ended with a Sanskrit invocation by a priest from the local Siva-Vishnu temple.”

According to the post “the White House kept it light and simple” but at least it’s nice to see the US government acknowledging an important cultural festival in the world that is often overlooked in the West.

Mata H blogs at Time's Fool and remembers Diwalis past in Jackson Heights, NY where she lived a long time ago.

Recent Posts by Mata H

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