Deepavali means "the array of lights." "Thamasomaa jyotirgamaya" (Lead me from darkness to light) is a Upanishadic prayer: This means that where there is darkness light is needed. What is this darkness? Sorrow is one form of darkness. Peacelessness is another. Loss is another. Disappointment is one form of darkness. Misery is yet another. Lack of enthusiasm is another. All these are different forms of darkness. To get rid of the darkness of sorrow, you have to light the lamp of happiness. To dispel the darkness of disease, you have to install the light of health. To get over the darkness of losses and failures, you have to usher in the light of prosperity.
Looking at the Deepavali festival from the scientific point of view, it should be noted that at one time in the distant past, our ancestors lived in the Arctic region (the polar region). In this region, darkness prevailed for six months. The sun appears on Mesha Sankranthi day (the sun entering the Aries sign of the Zodiac). The sun sets in this region on Tula Sankranthi day (when the sun enters Libra). In the movement between these two signs, there is an interval of six months. After the sun sets in Libra, the dark half-year starts.
Today is Chathurdasi (the fourteenth day) in the month of Karthik. It is Amavasya (New Moon day). The month is called Kaumudi. The people in the polar region used to start lighting their lamps from this day. The lighting of the lamp is not without other significance. As they would be in darkness for a long period, they described the lamp that was lit as Nithyajyothi (the perennial light).
It was on Deepavali day that Sri Rama's coronation took place after his victorious return to Ayodhya from Lanka vanquishing Ravana and his Rakshasa brood. For a long period, Ayodhya had been plunged in darkness when Rama was in exile in the forest. In the absence of the effulgent Rama, Ayodhya was a city of darkness. The forests were filled with light. The return of Rama was hailed by the people of Ayodhya as the return of divine effulgence and hence they celebrated the event by the lighting of lamps everywhere.
Nor is that all. Today's festival is marked by other significant features. This is the day on which the Lord in His Vamana incarnation sent the Emperor Bali to the Nether World after He got the promise of three feet of ground (measured by the Lord's foot) from Bali. Vamana (as the incarnation of Vishnu) used the gift of three feet of land to put down the Ahamkara (egotism) of Bali.
Deepavali is a festival which is designed to celebrate the suppression of the Ego by the Higher Self. Man is plunged in the darkness of ignorance and has lost the power of discrimination between the permanent and the evanescent. When the darkness of ignorance caused by Ahamkara (the ego-feeling) is dispelled by the light of Divine knowledge, the effulgence of the Divine is experienced. Deepavali is also the day on which Emperor Vikrama ditya ascended the throne.
If the darkness of ignorance is to be dispelled, man needs a container, oil, wick and a matchbox corresponding to what an external lamp needs. For man, the heart is the container. The mind is the wick. Love is the oil and vairagya (sacrifice) is the matchbox. When you have these four, Atma-jyothi (the Divine flame of the Spirit) shines effulgently. When the light of the Spirit is aflame, the Light of Knowledge appears and dispels the darkness of ignorance.
The flame of a lamp has two qualities. One is to banish darkness. The other is a continuous upward movement. Even when a lamp is kept in a pit, the flame moves upwards. The sages have therefore adored the lamp of wisdom as the flame that leads men to higher states. Hence, the effulgence of light should not be treated as a trivial phenomenon. Along with lighting the external lamps, men should strive to light the lamps within them. The human estate should be governed by sacred qualities. This calls for the triple purity of body, mind, and speech--Trikarana Suddhi (purity of the three instruments).
The inner significance of Deepavali is to lead man from darkness to light. Man is perpetually plunged in darkness. Every time he is enveloped in darkness, he should light a lamp that is ever shining within him. Carry that lamp wherever you go. It will light your path wherever you may be.
When we inquire into the significance of the Deepavali festival which we are celebrating today, we find that traditionally it is a joyous festival to celebrate the destruction of the demon Narakasura by Sri Krishna. It is only when we first understand the meaning of the Krishna Principle will we be able to understand the significance of the Naraka principle. Krishna is the embodiment of the Five Elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. He is also the embodiment of five life breaths -- prana, apana, amana, udana, and vyana. "Kleem Krishnaya-Govindaaya-Gopijanavallabhaaya Swaah." This mantra contains the essence of the Bhagavatha. The five names represent the five pranas (vital airs). Kleem refers to the earth. Krishnaya refers to water. Govindaya refers to Agni (the Fire-God). Gopijanavallabhaaya refers to vayu (air). Swaah refers to ether.
When we recognize that the Divine is immanent in the five elements, we will realize that there is no place in the cosmos where these five are not present. The human body is composed of the five elements. These elements, because they constitute the body, can affect only the body but cannot affect the Atma in any way.
In commenting on the Krishna story in the Bhagavatha, many writers have indulged in all kinds of misinterpretations. One such misinterpretation relates to Krishna's wives.
Misinterpretation of Bhagavatham
In the human body, there are what are called shadchakras --six spiritual centers. Of these, the two most important are: the Hridayachakra (the Heart Center) and the sahasrara (the thousand petalled center). The Hridayachakra is also known as the Hridayakamala (Lotus of the Heart) and the sahasrara is called the Thousand-Petalled Lotus. The lotus of the heart has eight petals. These eight petals symbolize the eight worlds, the eight directions, the eight guardians of the world, the eight bhutas (spirits) and the eight parts of the earth. Because Krishna was the lord of these eight petals, He was described as the husband of eight queens. The master is called Pathi and those under him are described as wives. This is a symbolic relationship and not a husband-wife relationship in the worldly sense. It is because the esoteric significance of these relationships was not properly understood, the Bhagavatham came in for misinterpretation.
It is also stated that Krishna was wedded to 16000 gopikas. Who are these gopikas? They are not cowherdesses in physical form. In the human head there is a lotus with a thousand petals. The Lord is described as the embodiment of the 16 kalas. As the Lord of the sahasrara (thousand-petalled lotus), He presides over the 16,000kalas, which are present in this lotus. The kundalini sakti, which starts at the bottom of the spinal column (mooladhara), rises and merges with the 16,000 entities in the sahasrara. This is the esoteric significance and the meaning of the role of the Divine within the body. Oblivious to this inner meaning, people indulge in misinterpretations and perverse expositions.
Krishna's encounter with the demon Naraka has to be understood against this background. "Nara-ka" means one who is opposed to the Atma. Naraka does not mean a demon. It is the name of the satellite which revolved round the earth. When people were filled with apprehension about the threat to the earth from this satellite, when it seemed to be approaching the earth, Krishna removed their fear by destroying the satellite.
Deepavali commemorates Krishna's victory
Dangers from the planets are apprehended from time to time. For instance, some years ago, people expected great danger to the world from the combination of the "Ashtagraha" (eight planets). Five thousand years ago people dreaded the approach of a planet near to the earth. To allay their fears, Krishna came to their rescue and averted the impending danger. The celebration of Deepavali as the day of deliverance from Narakasura commemorates Krishna's victory. The day is observed as an occasion when the Divine leads mankind from darkness to light.
The legendary version of the Narakasura episode describes the demon as master of Praagjyothishapura. The symbolic meaning of sahasrara is that it is a place which has forgotten the Atma . The inner meaning of this is that demonic forces dwell in any place where the Atma is forgotten. All the chaos and evil in the world today are due to the fact that men have forgotten the Atma (the Supreme Spirit). Every man is conscious of the body and of the individual soul, but is not conscious of the Paramatma (Divinity) within him.
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On Deepavali day, we light numerous lamps with one candle. The light with which other lamps are lit is a Symbol of the Divine. The other lamps are jivanajyothis (individual lamps). They derive their light from the One Supreme Light. It is to teach this truth to men that the Festival of Lights is observed.
According to the legend, Krishna killed Narakasura with the help of Sathyabhama. What does this signify? Each of us has to fight and destroy the demonic forces within each by resorting to Sathya (Truth). "Sathyameva Jayathe' declares the Upanishad (Truth alone triumphs). "Speak the Truth" is a Vedic injunction. Once the Goddess of the Earth went to Vishnu and lamented that she can bear any kind of burden but not the burden of carrying those indulging in falsehood. One must be prepared to make any kind of sacrifice for upholding Truth. That is the lesson taught by Harischandra, who sacrificed his kingdom, wife and son, for the sake of the pledged word. He stands out as the supreme upholder of Truth.
Everyone should endeavor to adhere to Truth. Truth is God. With faith in God and adherence to Truth, all demonic forces can be vanquished.
The city in which the demon Narakasura had his capital was known as "Praagjyotishapuram". The name consists of four syllables: Praag, jyoti, sha, and puram. Praag means former; jyoti means light; sha means forgetting, and puram means the body. Together, the term refers to the heart. The inner meaning of the term is that the man in his body is forgetting the light, the Atmajyothi, in him. Nara has various meanings. One is Atma. Another meaning is that which is not permanent. As nara, man has forgotten his true spiritual state. When bad qualities enter the city of nara, man becomes narakasura (a demonic being). The term narakasura also means one who carries people to naraka (hell).
The inner meaning underlying the Bharatiya (Indian) festivals should be rightly understood. Note, for instance, the fact that the whole array of lamps are lit by the light from one lamp. That one lamp symbolizes the Supreme Effulgent Lord. The others symbolize the light in individual selves. The truth of the Vedic saying, "The One willed to become the Many" is exemplified by the lighting of lamps by the flame of one. The Deepavali festival thus bears out the profoundest spiritual truth.
Deepavali has to be observed as a day for getting rid of all the bad qualities in us, symbolized by the demon Narakaasura. The gopikas who were freed on that day represent the imprisoned good qualities in us. They should be manifested effulgently. This is the inner significance of the festival. As long as the demonic qualities remain in man, he will be immersed in darkness. Bad qualities and thoughts have to be got rid of altogether.
I desire that our festivals and the holy days should be observed in the right spirit, with an understanding of their inner significance. The destruction of the narakasura symbolizes the destruction of evil and the restoration of what is good.
Deepavali means a garland or festoon of lights, the most characteristic way in which the festival is observed by all. Deepavali is the day when old clothes are discarded and new ones worn; when the home and its precincts are swept clean, given a new look and made to appear fresh and fine. But even while doing all this, attention has to be paid to the discarding of worn out prejudices, the adoption of new habits of love and mutual respect, the freshening of one's attitude towards one's kith and kin, brothers and sisters of all creeds and castes, the hanging of festoons of friendship and fraternity over the door sill of the heart. This will make the festival really meaningful and fruitful.
Deepavali is also a day dedicated to the goodness of riches called Dhanalakshmi. They celebrate the day as Dhanalakshmi Puja in many states in India. But, riches when one comes by them, have to be revered as something given on trust and must be used for the amelioration of the wants of society and not for personal aggrandizement. Riches may come or riches may go; scholarship may be acquired or may not be acquired; even joy may come and go. Whatever happens, man must be unmoved, he must not swerve from the path that he has chosen towards the goal.
The human being is a composite of man and beast and God, and in the inevitable struggle between the three for ascendency, you must ensure that God wins, suppressing the merely human and the lowly beast. This festival of Deepavali is to express gratitude at the defeat of naraka tendencies in man, which drag him down from divinity. Naraka is the name for hell and the Asura, whose death at the hands of Krishna is celebrated today, is called Narakasura, the personification of all the traits of character that obstruct the upward impulses of man.
He is said to be the son of Bhumi (the earth) and he is also called Bhauma. This is very appropriate, for the earth and all attachments for things earthly lead us down into the regions of pain and grief. Earthly domains, earthly riches are powerless before the spiritual domain over the senses, spiritual riches of self knowledge and self confidence.
On this Deepavali day, resolve to light the lamp of namasmarana and place it at your doorstep, the lips. Feed it with the oil of devotion; have steadiness as the wick. Let the lamp illumine every minute of your life. The splendor of the Name will drive away darkness from outside you as well as from inside you. You will spread joy and peace among all who come near you.