In 2013, Diwali, the festival of lights, will be celebrated on Nov. 3 by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit deepavali, which means a row of lights. For many Hindus, Diwali is also New Year’s Eve.
While Diwali is popularly known as the “festival of lights”, the most significant spiritual meaning is “the awareness of the inner light”. Central to Hindu philosophy is the assertion that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman. The celebration of Diwali as the “victory of good over evil”, refers to the light of higher knowledge dispelling all ignorance, the ignorance that masks one’s true nature, not as the body, but as the unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With this awakening comes compassion and the awareness of the oneness of all things (higher knowledge). This brings anand (joy or peace). Just as we celebrate the birth of our physical being, Diwali is the celebration of this Inner Light.
The “row of lights” for which the festival is named are lit on the new-moon night to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. But in Bengal, it is the goddess Kali who is so honored, and in North India the festival also celebrates the return of Gods and Godesses Rama, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman to the city of Ayodhya, where Rama’s rule of righteousness was inaugurated. Diwali is celebrated with a variety of rituals, which depend in large part on one’s location, but they center on the lighting of candles, electric lights and fireworks. Throughout the five-day festival, small earthenware lamps filled with oil are lighted and placed in rows along the tops of temples and houses and set adrift on rivers and streams.
The Diwali season is also significant to Sikhs. During the festival time in 1620, the sixth Guru, Hargobind Singh, gained the release of 52 Hindu princes who had been falsely imprisoned in Gwallior Fort by the rulers of the area, the Mughals. The Golden Temple of Amritsar was lit with many lights to welcome the release of Guru Hargobind; Sikhs have continued the tradition.
Jains also celebrate Diwali, as a celebration of the establishment of the dharma by Lord Mahavira. The festival’s lights symbolizes the light of holy knowledge that was extinguished with Mahavira’s passing.
In the name of the Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish to all Hindu, Sikh and Jain believers a very happy Diwali.
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Indians buy lanterns from roadside stalls ahead of Hindu festival of lights Diwali, in Mumbai, India, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013. Lanterns are a popular traditional decoration as people decorate their homes during the Diwali festival. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
A Sri Lankan Hindu priest blesses devotees during Diwali, or the Festival of Lights at a Hindu temple in Colombo on November 2, 2013. The Hindu Festival of Lights, Diwali marks the homecoming of the God Lord Ram after vanquishing the demon king Ravana and symbolises taking people from darkness to light in the victory of good over evil. Photo by IIshara S.KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images.
In this Saturday, Nov.2, 2013 photograph, Indian widows light crackers as they celebrate Diwali or the festival of lights at an Ashram in Vrindavan, India. In India, for all of its recent modernization and openness to foreign cultures, being a widow remains one of the worst stigmas a woman can endure, and women are far from equal here. When her husband dies, the widow often becomes a pariah, excluded from family gatherings for fear the mere fall of her shadow will bring bad luck and tragedy.(AP Photo/ Rajesh Kumar Singh)
Indian Sikh devotees lights candles at the illuminated Sikhism’s holiest shrine Golden Temple in Amritsar on November 3, 2013, on the ocassion of Bandi Chhor Divas or Diwali. Sikhs celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas or Diwali to mark the return of the Sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, who was freed from imprisonment and also managed to release 52 political prisoners at the same time from Gwalior fort by Mughal Emperor Jahangir in 1619. Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images.
Indian Muslim shop owner, Nasurullah Abdul Majid, 70, arranges silk garlands ahead of Diwali festivities at their shop in Ahmedabad on October 21, 2013. Diwali, which falls on November 3, marks the victory of good over evil. Photo by SAM PANTHAKY/AFP/Getty Images.
Indians buy lanterns from roadside stalls ahead of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, in Mumbai, India, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013. Hindus light up their homes and pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, during the festival which will be celebrated on Nov. 3. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)
Indian women browse cookies ahead of the upcoming Diwali festival celebrations in the Brickfields area, also known as Little India, in Kuala Lumpur on October 21, 2013. Hindus throughout the world will celebrate Diwali on November 2. Photo by MOHD RASFAN/AFP/Getty Images.
An Indian craftsman paints clay ‘diyas’ (earthen lamps) ahead of the Hindu festival of Diwali in Amritsar on October 29, 2013. Diwali, celebrated this year on November 3 marks the victory of good over evil and commemorates the time when Hindu God Lord Rama achieved victory over Ravana and returned to his Kingdom Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. Photo by NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images.
An Indian potter makes earthen lamps ahead of the Diwali festival in Ahmadabad, India, Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013. Diwali, the festival of lights will be celebrated on Nov. 3. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki)
A Malaysian ethnic Indian woman dries her hand after getting it painted with henna for the upcoming Diwali, or the Hindu festival of lights in Klang, outside Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013. The festival falls on Saturday. (AP Photo/Lai Seng Sin)