Today is Diwali, Festival of Lights. Diwali Mubarak! Naya Saal Mubarak! Diwali and New Year greetings to all!
Diwali – from the Sanskrit Deepavali – means “rows of lamps”. Uniquely marked by the lighting of myriad oil lamps (now combined with decorative electric lights) in homes and public spaces; flower decorations to homes and shops, streets and parks; firework displays and the bursting of fire crackers; the making and sharing of infinite varieties of sweets; the buying and gifting of new clothes and precious jewellery; and, most important, the reunion of families and friends – Diwali is one of the most joyously celebrated festivals of India. It is India’s equivalent of Christmas in the West.
The significance of Diwali is manifold, and there are as many symbolisms as there are cultures inIndia. The two most important stories may loosely be termed the north Indian and south Indian.
In northern India, Diwali is celebrated as the victorious return of Lord Rama to his rightful throne in Ayodhya after 14 years of unjust exile. It symbolizes the triumph of the forces of light, i.e., truth and justice over the forces of darkness, i.e., deception and greed. Diwali follows within a few weeks of Dussehra, the festival celebrated across north India as symbolic of the destruction of the demon king Ravana by Lord Rama as a prelude to his return to Ayodhya.
In south India, the story of Deepavali has a powerful king Mahabali at its centre. Bali was a great and wise king, famed for his fabulous generosity; it was said that nobody who came to Bali with a request ever left empty-handed. But Bali’s arrogance and complacency arising out of is own reputation proved to be his undoing. So drunk was he on his own fame that God – Maha Vishnu – felt compelled to come down to earth to teach a lesson in equanimity and humility. Taking the form of a poor midget Brahmin who approaches Bali with a timorous request for just three paces of land, God demonstrates to Bali the folly of arrogance which arises out of a false sense of self and ignorance of one’s place in the cosmic scheme of things. In gratitude, Bali prays that his lesson be commemorated by the annual lighting of ‘rows of lamps of wisdom and awareness ’ to dispel the darkness and futility of self-delusion that can entrap even the most accomplished of persons.
In Rajasthan, Diwali is the most important publicly celebrated festival for several additional reasons. The day following Diwali marks the beginning of the traditional new year for the people of Rajasthan. It is also the beginning of the new financial year for the trading and business communities that dominate the regional economy of Rajasthan. Following a grand puja (dedication) to the Godess Lakshmi – the godess of wealth and prosperity – businesses and shops open their new account books. Throughout the Diwali week shops and markets remain open, entire market areas are festooned with colourful decorations, sweet shops spill out onto the road, and textile and jewellery shops lay out their choicest wares to tempt customers. It coincides with the agricultural calendar - the new harvest has just been taken in, and there is ready cash in people’s hands.
At Savista, every electric light on the property is on for this evening. We have also lit oil lamps all around the pool, at the gates, all through the Eastern Court, and at various points across the grounds. Against the dark of the moonless sky – Diwali is always on a no-moon night – the flickering lamps have imparted a magic to the property. All of Savista’s staff received gifts of clothes, sweets and cash. Those of the staff who live at Savista are wearing their new clothes and preparing to set off fire works, and those who live in their own homes in the nearby villages – mostly women – are enjoying their holiday, wearing their new saris and sharing with their families the sweets that they carried home. Tomorrow their brothers will visit them and share in the feast that their sisters will have prepared for them, for Diwali is also an occasion for siblings to renew their relationship.