Passing on the light

Diwali or Deepawali (latter meaning “row of lighted lamps in Sanskrit) is one of the major festivals celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs (Bandi Chhor Divas) and Newar Buddhists. Each have their differing beliefs, rituals and regionally across India, the worship of different deities to mark the occasion. It is one of the social festivals of India that has an array of other national and dharmic festivals for celebration.

My article focuses on the Hindu sect of India that my ancestors came from, in Gujarat, Western Coast of India, and the traditions that we follow.

Hindus often refer to their religion as ‘Sanatana Dharma’ which means eternal or changing religious life. The core principles given in a passage of the sacred text ‘Mahabharata’ are ‘not harming in thought, word and deed, , truthfulness, remaining free from anger, and charity (whether in financial terms or any other forms including kindness, compassion or empathy).’

Hindus have many rituals which are to purify the mind as they require physical and mental focus on that activity at hand and utter devotion to God/Deity. This in turn is thought to give more energy to apply to every-day life action as it trains the mind to become more single pointed and focused for any task ahead. For each ritual there is a psychological meaning and purpose for doing it.

Hindu’s worship one supreme being, Brahman, (consciousness that binds every living being). They also believe in many deities that perform various functions and have different qualities to aspire to.

Every ritual of the Diwali festival has a significance and a story behind them. The festival symbolises the spiritual victory over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance.

Diwali coincides with the darkest night of the lunar month. During the festival, Hindus light their homes, temples and even workplaces with divas, candles, or lanterns to give light to the darkness.

Diwali can be marked with fireworks and decorations of floors with ‘rangoli’ designs. Food is a major focus with preparations weeks ahead. The festival is an annual homecoming and bonding period for not only families, but friends, communities and associations which will organise activities, events, and gatherings.

Historically Diwali, can be traced back to ancient India. It began as an important harvest festival celebrating the bounty following the monsoon in the subcontinent. However, there are various legends pointing to the origins of Diwali.

The Hindu festival usually lasts 5 days celebrated during the Hindu lunar calendar (between mid- October to Mid-November). This year it starts on 2 November 2021 with Diwali on 4 November 2021.

The festival also coincides with the Hindu New Year. Each of the days, is marked with a different tradition. What remains constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyments, and a sense of goodness.

Day 1 starts with Dhanteras, derived from Dhan meaning wealth and teras meaning 13th day of the month of Kartik. Symbolically it is celebrated by cleaning homes and business premises and lighting candles for the next 5 days. Prayers are made to deity, Lakshmi. goddess of wealth, and her many incarnations/ forms. She is also the goddess of love, good virtues, compassion, empathy, and spiritual progress. The essence is gratitude of all wealth not only financial but in body and nature around us. It is also to recognise the value of wealth and use it for the benefit of others.

Day 2 is Kali Chaudas. The Prayers are to the goddess Kali ma who is the goddess of strength both physical and emotionally. The guidance is to use our personal strength in whatever form in all our dealings for the benefit of others.

In the modern age, rituals often solely focus around ending hostilities, forgiveness for those whom we deem have wronged us. It is also a time of renewal of relationships with the use of our strengths to do this.

Day 3 is Diwali, Prayers are to the goddess Saraswati, who is the goddess of knowledge, music, art, speech, wisdom, and learning.

It is also the celebration of good over evil (depicted in the story of Ramayana), therefore the focus is not being self-centred but do charitable deeds and pass on the light to others. Also, about encompassing spiritual knowledge over ignorance.

There are symbolically on this day, rituals around doing pujas or prayers /blessing for your business accounts as it is the last day of the Hindu calendar year. These are either in homes, business premises or at the temple.

Introspectively it is doing a balance sheet of how one has lived their life last year before the dawn of the new year, how to improve oneself with good habits or deeds for being a better person the following year and starting with a clean slate.

Day 4 is the New Year.

It is celebrated by going to the temple, catching up with family and friends, time for forgiving grudges and starting afresh and a celebration of the New Year as in any society or culture.

Day 5 Bhai Beej-literally meaning Brother’s Day

The day is when sisters invite their brother or male cousins or anyone they regard in their life as a brother for a meal and a catch up. The reverse of this day is Rakshabhandan, often falling in August, when sisters go to their brother’s house for a meal. Therefore, there is a reciprocal balance in the relationship and a fixed day in our busy lives to celebrate bonds and brother-sister relationships.

From a family law prospective when dealing with Hindu clients, is trying to understand what is important to them as each individual family with follow their different traditions or none. Some specific days may be more significant than others personally to their tradition especially arranging child arrangements around the time.