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Diwali with a Difference: Reaffirmation

Nov. 11, 2020, 6:27 p.m. by Dr Gayatri Mohapatra ( 471 views)

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‘’There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.”

(Leonard Cohen, Selected Poems 1956-1968)

In just about a month and a half, the year 2020 will end. Perhaps, for a very long time, we will remember it as one that shook the foundations of mankind because of the grave existential threat it posed. The global distress and deaths caused by the pandemic multiplied by a sense of helplessness and loss of bearing questioned/compromised the dominance of the human race. We reeled at the onslaught of a mere microorganism!

Yet, as they say, every grey cloud as a silver lining. The pandemic definitely has caused us un-imaginable, un-called for harm; but, simultaneously, it has also done us great good. In as much, it has reminded us what the Nobel laureate TS Eliot agonized about in his famous poem ‘ The Rock’:

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

There is a realization within each of us today about what is needed, what is valuable, what needs to be prioritized, what is sacred! That incessant speed of living and the pull of neon lights has given way to the erstwhile measured, gentle pace of life and the comfort of the glowing embers of the fireplace at home.

None of this is more apparent or tangible than in the build up to the beautiful festival of Diwali.

But, before I tell you how, first a little bit about the festival itself :

Diwali, or Dipawali, is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that's also enjoyed by non-Hindu communities. For instance, in Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening, of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C.; in Sikhism, it honors the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment. In northern India, they celebrate the story of King Rama's return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. Southern India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. In western India, the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity) sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world. Buddhists in India celebrate Diwali as well.

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Over the years now, the age-old clay ‘diyas’ were replaced with Chinese electric diyas and candles with fairy lights, eclipsing the beautiful tradition of the women in the household preparing the diyas for the evening. We had digressed from the essence of Diwali by trading earthen oil lamps with their electric plastic versions. The fragrance of earthen diyas soaked in water and the wisps of smoke from the oil/ghee dipped wicker added spirituality to the air. The bonding and laughter as the diyas were carefully arranged around the house had incandescence of their own! Today, this is back again...the reduced sale of electric lights for Diwali to be celebrated in a calibrated manner entails people being innovative in their homes. Thanks also to the un-called for, deceitful aggressive Chinese stance along our border as well as taking undue advantage of the pandemic globally, there has been an enthusiastic return to ‘swadeshi’, ‘atmanirvar’ and ‘vocal for local’!The overwhelming physical Chinese effect on Diwali, from the led lights to the plastic, jazzy Lakshmi /Ganesh statues is seeing a definite downward spiral. This when reinforced by an acute sense of national pride translates to a deep connection with Mother India and her glorious heritage and culture.

Let's not forget the crackers! There was an increase in the number of people who burst crackers leading to an alarming increase in both air and noise pollution. The after effects were terrifying. Delhi’s air quality has consistently been declared ‘poor’ for many years. Once the quality of air starts to deteriorate, people suffer from various health issues like – Irritation in the eyes, coughing, and breathing issues. But, again a muted Diwali due to the pandemic means lesser crackers! One also needs to salute the social conscience of many states in India that have put a ban on the sale of crackers. This is such a positive change in the way we celebrate Diwali that has happened for good. With increasing pollution, people are becoming aware of the environment. The other collateral benefits are that stray animals will be saved from crackers as well as a decrease in child labour at Sivakasi ( where crackers are produced in abysmal conditions). With such measures in place, we’re moving one step closer to a complete eco-friendly Diwali and that is something that indeed calls for a celebration.

We are also back to traditional sweets which will be made at home now.No more impersonally ordering from the sweet shops with a crisp mental calculation of how many relatives/friends are there where the boxes will be delivered! Rather, in each household, the women will sit down to make the barfis, besan ladoos, malpuas, and gujiyas at home; while the menfolk will ensure the ingredients reach at the right time. There will be anticipation, excitement, and joy in the kitchens...and the aroma of love.

The commercialization of the festival has also fortunately seen a decrease. No more status symbolizing, gift laden cars driven by chauffeurs surge on the streets of cities/towns, especially in Delhi, a month ahead of the festivities. The ‘gift culture’, that instead of warmth and feelings, was steeped in the arrogance of class/money is seeing a return to its original roots!

This Diwali will be all about togetherness, connection, family time-- a return to the values that India is known for and celebrated throughout the world for their purity. It will also be a homage to Mother Nature, who we had carelessly abandoned, seeking her grace to make our world greener and more compassionate.

When we pray on Diwali evening, let us truly imbibe the essence and ethos of this sacrosanct and beautiful hymn:

ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥

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Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||


  1. 1-Om, (O Lord) Keep me not in (the Phenomenal World of) Unreality, but make me go towards the Reality (of Eternal Self),
  2. 2-Keep me not in (the Ignorant State of) Darkness, but make me go towards the Light (of Spiritual Knowledge),
  3. 3-Keep me not in (the World of) Mortality, but make me go towards the World of Immortality (of Self-Realization),
  4. 4-Om, Peace, Peace, Peace.
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Happy and Prosperous Diwali, dear readers and friends!

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