Deepavali: A time to deconstruct systemic barriers and contribute to a just society

By Pandit Rajin Lalaram

Dating back centuries ago in ancient Bharat, now India, the historic events connecting to the mighty churning of the ocean in a fierce battle between the Devtas (Gods) and Daanavs (demons) resulted in a victory for the Devtas as Maa Lakshmi emerged from the ocean in pure bliss. On this occasion, the Devatas celebrated the return of the Goddess of light to the land.

Pandit Rajin Lalaram during one of his yajna sessions

In demonstration of an honourable welcome, those gathered lit earthen lamps and chanted praises. The celestial beings rained down flowers from the heavens and exalted her majesty and glory.
Centuries later, the world looks forward to such a blissful, sacred and festivity-rich celebration laced with immaculate decor, motorcades, fireworks, drama, music and irresistible vegetarian cuisines each year.
Diwali, though originated in the East, has become amalgamated into the wider diverse cultural tapestry of the West, particularly the Caribbean and North America, where most of the Indians settled during the Colonial Indentureship regime.

Pandit Lalaram with a devotee

The word “Diwali” or “Deepavali” etymologically in their construct translate to mean “a row of light”. Literally, an illumination that dispels darkness. Metaphorically, darkness connotes ignorance, hostility, arrogance, injustice, illegality, inequity, intolerance and restriction to one’s fundamental freedoms, entitlement, choices and expressions.
Incidentally and quite unfortunately, these are constructs and systemic issues which still inhibit human growth and development around the world in which we live today. The deeper philosophical values of this celebration, therefore, seeks to inspire celebrants to deconstruct these systemic barriers and contribute to a world that is free, fair and just for all irrespective of race, caste, class, gender orientation as well as geographic location.
Very unique to this celebration is the preparation for the lighting of the earthen lamps, the “diya”. A vessel that is primarily made of clay and uniquely shaped and baked into firmness. Traditionally this has been the centre of the celebration, and still is, though local producers have suffered a decline in demand due to the rush for the technologically modified semi-electric lamps which do not really create the ambience and evoke the emotions relative to those created by the sight and interaction with the “real clay diyas”.
One may enjoy a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the festival by grasping the philosophical representation of the diya. So, it is a composite of four elements.
There is the diya itself, the oil, the wick and the flame. The diya is a symbol of our human construct. It reminds us that we are in fact a composite of the five elements birthed in nature ie earth, air, liquid, heat and ether. It also reminds us that human life is transitory and will at some point dissolve into nothingness and that each of us has a specific purpose to fulfil.
Secondly, the oil is symbolic of the conscious mind. Our mind must be naturally healthy, disciplined and enabling towards achieving our goals and aspirations. An unstable mind, one that is restless and replete with negative traits would be synonymous to fuel that is highly flammable and hazardous. Imagine if one were to use gas or methylated spirits to fuel a diya instead of ghee or coconut oil.
Then there is the wick. The wick represents the intellect, intuition and reasoning – once projected in the right direction, one will ultimately realise his/her divinity and lead a successful human life. Divinity is represented by the flame. Hence, we are drawn to the reasonable conclusion that where harmony exists among the body, mind, intellect and soul, human life is a noble and prized experience.
In Guyana, no doubt, Diwali is an anxiously awaited festival. Lasting for five days, Hindus engage in various acts of charity, fasting, devotional prayers, social and familial bonding. Over the years, not only has the festival been observed by just Hindus but all Guyanese are now joyously part of the celebration.
It is a time for reflection and resolution. Families strengthen their bonds, neighbours and friends shed hatchets and communities unite in one national pride and purpose. These values are even more pronounced as we celebrate this year in a global pandemic. I, therefore, urge that we make this Diwali an occasion for giving, for looking out for our neighbourhoods, our children, the elderly, our families and friends with disabilities and do something that will impact their lives in a positive way.
On the occasion of Diwali 2020, I wish you and your families Maha Latchmi Maa’s blessings in abundance. May the sacred light, as we shall ignite on Diwali night, illuminate our hearts, minds and consciousness so that we embody and share the virtues of peace, goodwill, love and gratitude to all.
Shubh Diwali!