Thursday, November 08, 2007

Happy Diwali

The night sky in New Delhi on Diwali reminds me of the images of Baghdad the night the U.S. invaded Iraqi. The fireworks begin at dusk and goes on throughout the night. By the fourth hour smoke hovers over the whole city. By the sixth hour we go to bed, with earplugs.

Diwali is the most festive of all holidays in India, primarily in the north. The celebrations focus on lights, lamps and fireworks. Celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, there are varied versions of legend and myth. The most common is the homecoming of King Rama after a 14-year exile in the forest after defeating the demon King Ravana (pictured below). Thus on this night people welcome him back by lighting up rows of lamps.

Another popular myth is the lighting of lamps to invoke Lakshmi Pooja, the Goddess of fortune and wealth. People believe that Lakshmi brings prosperity, which is denied, to those who leave their home unlit on the day. The goddess Lakshmi is worshipped at this time and her image and coins of are washed with yoghurt.

Sikhs associate this festival with the laying of the foundation stone of the Golden Temple at Amritsar by their fourth Guru, Ram Das. They also associate it with the release of Guru Hargobind from prison by the Mogul Emperor Jahangir. Jains celebrate Diwali as the day when Lord Mahavira attained Nirvana.

Those are the legends, but in practical everyday terms it marks the time of the Hindu New Year and a time when family and friends buy gifts for each other and visit. In spite of the religious overtones, few people see it as a holy festival, except for the superstitions that accompanies much of Hindu ritual.

Some Christians refuse to recognize the day and would never greet another person with “Happy Diwali.” I’ve never understood the resistance in being courteous to another’s person’s holiday, even if you don’t agree with the meaning behind it. When Hindu’s and Muslims wish me a Merry Christmas or Happy Easter, I don’t think they feel they are compromising their faith. I am assuming they know little to nothing about my faith and if they do, to say Merry Christmas to me is a sign of respect to me as a person, though maybe not my beliefs.

So, to my Hindu friends, Happy Diwali. Let’s indeed talk about the triumph of good over evil and about the One who said, I am the light of the world: he that follows me will not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.