Diwali (or Divali) comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali which literally means "a row of lights." This auspicious holiday, known in English as the "festival of lights," is celebrated by Hindus around the world, and for most Hindus marks the beginning of the New Year. It historically symbolizes the victory of good over evil and celebrates light and life on both community and personal levels. On the one hand, it is a time to rejoice and feast with friends and family. Homes are cleaned and decorated with bright earthen lamps in every corner, and delicious meals are prepared and shared with all. Old accounts are closed, and arguments are settled.
On a more personal level, however, Diwali is a time to turn inward and light the lamps of knowledge and truth in our hearts and minds so that we can dispel the forces of darkness and ignorance within us and allow our innate brilliance and goodness to shine forth. Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, is the principle deity associated with this festival. During Diwali we ask her for assistance in cultivating and accumulating spiritual wealth, such as compassion, forgiveness, and loving-kindness.
Diwali is a time to reflect on and evaluate our thoughts, words, and actions over the past year. It is a time to acknowledge and better understand our prejudices, negative behaviors, and bad habits so that we may begin the process of transforming ourselves. It is a time to discover how we can be more loving, kind, respectful, and skillful towards ourselves and others. And since all wealth, be it material or spiritual, should be shared with others who are less fortunate, Diwali is also a time to reflect on the various ways we can assist others and shine our light out into the world.
Just as the flame of a lamp always points upward, Diwali is most importantly a time to celebrate and appreciate life and to look forward to the coming year with a renewed sense of purpose and passion. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, Diwali is a reminder and an opportunity to "Be the change you want to see in the world!"
To Name This Day:
Light a single candle and spend a few minutes softly gazing at the flame. Breathe deeply. Close your eyes and picture the flame that is burning brightly in your heart. Continue to breathe deeply. Meditate on your innate brilliance, goodness, and wholeness. Let your heart open wide and embrace your inner light.
Prayers & Mantras
Recite the following Vedic chant/prayer in Sanskrit and/or in English
Om Asato Ma Sad Gamaya
Tamaso Ma Jyotir Gamaya
Mrityor Ma Amritam Gamaya
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti
Lead us from untruth to truth
From darkness to light
From death to immortality
Om Peace Peace Peace
Take some to time to journal.
1. Make a list of the personal qualities that dull your inner light such as greed, anger, and laziness. Commit yourself to getting rid of one of these qualities starting in the here and now.
2. Make a list of qualities that nurture your inner light such as compassion, kindness, and generosity. Commit yourself to further cultivating one of these qualities starting in the here and now.
3. Identify some simple yet transformative ways in which you can share your inner light/spiritual wealth with others. For example, saying “Hello. How are you?” to all those you encounter and really listen to their answer, smiling at people you encounter while sitting on the train or standing in line at the post office or grocery store, and quietly blessing others as they pass by you on the street. Commit yourself to implementing one of these gestures starting in the here and now.
Ami Bhalodkar is an interfaith minister. She is a member of the faculty of the One Spirit Interfaith Seminary in New York City and lectures on Hinduism. In addition to providing interfaith workshops, Rev. Bhalodkar performs customized wedding ceremonies and offers spiritual counseling.