In the not too distant past, when the area known as Ittigegud (in Mysore) had Model houses, the forest flowed from the foot of Chamundi Hills to the edge of this colony, dusk was broken by the wacky, cackling, maniacal laughter of jackals from the hills, the sawing, coughing, rasping of a solitary leopard and the irritable grunt of a zoo tiger and the lighting of scores of earthen lamps in the small, Tulasi mandaps that was present in all the model houses. There was no house that did not follow this ritual.
Variations of this evening ritual is present in the mud houses of fringe communities in the northern India and down south in the coconut palm thatched dwellings just beyond the high tide line of southern coastal India and in every dwelling, modern and traditional in every corner of the country.
Light symbolises the dispelling of darkness from within and without. There is a line from the Rg Veda that says, “May the luminous Sun rise up / To bless us for our well-being.”
The longing for being led from darkness to light is expressed in the most evocative manner in the great epic, Ramayana where the trials and tribulations of Lord Rama, his consort Sita, and his brother Lakshmana, end after 14 long years of vanavasa (forest dwelling). The ultimate defeat of Ravana and his cohorts by Lord Rama and his simian friends culminates in the return of Rama to Ayodhya. Thousands of lamps are lit by a deliriously happy people welcoming the victorious Rama. This event, chronicled so vividly in popular retellings of Ramayana, is the festival of Lights, Deepavali or Diwali.
|2013. Manish-Verma. Ayodhyagamana. Acrylic on paper. 354 mm X 507 mm|
Like Deepavali or Diwali, the month of Kartika too is filled with a host of other celebrations in which the lighting of lamps is indispensable. For instance there is Sri Krishna's marriage with the Tulasi or Holy Basil, which is celebrated on Utthana Dwadashi, that is the 12th day after Deepavali. In this ceremony an idol of Krishna is placed beside the Tulasi shrub which has been placed in an earthen pot (Vrindavana) in the courtyard of the house. The Lord and his bride are ceremoniously married, the witness being the scores of earthen lamps arrayed on either side of the Tulasi mandap.
|2013. Manish-Verma. Tulasi Vivaha. Acrylic on paper. 281 mm X 382 mm|
Folklore is replete with many other stories both religious and secular that highlight the importance of lighting a lamp both to dispel darkness and ward off its powers.
Light from the lamp or from the sacrificial fire of a esoteric religious ceremony was always meant to lead one to being enlightened or at least to dispel the darkness of the mind. Indeed the Vedic seers chanted in the Taittiriya-Aranyaka: “May Agni render in me intelligence, Continuity of progeny/ and splendour born of Vedic study.”
We humans, in one form or the other, seek to keep darkness at bay... whether it is the inner darkness or to be more prosaic, the darkness brought about by power outages! The lamp, an earthen one, the wick a twist of cotton, soaked in oil either in a humble hut or a grandly decorated puja room in a high rise, only serve to reveal our selves... the yearning to be saved from darkness...
Perhaps this Deepavali we will be able to see this great festival of lights in a different 'light.' The sixth edition of 'Deepa Soundarya' is decked up with myriad lamps from across the country. Why don't you light a couple of Deeyas too... celebrate Deepavali with your family and friends. Let the sparkle of light reflected in your eyes be reflected in the countless pairs of eyes across the country.