Behind the glare of sparkling electric lights and the din of firecrackers, the sweet-savouries and the bonhomie of the day, there are deeper and subtle aspects of Diwali one should understand to truly appreciate the importance of the day. It is rare to see two deities (Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi) being worshipped together as part of the same festival. Creating further confusion is the accepted tradition that on the day of Diwali, Lord Ram returned to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. So, why isn’t Rama worshipped on Diwali?
Let us take a few steps back to understand the whole story.
Rama is an avatar, or reincarnation, of Lord Vishnu – the supreme godhead – with Goddess Lakshmi as his consort. However, popular Hindu iconography depicts Vishnu sleeping on Seshanaga (the king of nagas) on the sea of consciousness and, hence, he is unable to hear the prayers of devotees. Lakshmi, who is popularly shown seated close to the sleeping Vishnu, hears the prayers instead. She blesses them (on behalf of the sleeping Vishnu) with wealth (being the goddess of wealth,
fortune and prosperity).
This also has a deeper meaning. In the present Kaliyug (where human consciousness is at its worst), people are not that interested in Lord Vishnu to attain liberation from the cycle of ‘life and death’. Being wrapped in ‘maya’ (materialism), they are more interested in attaining materialistic success – wealth. It makes
them happy. This is also the reason for traders and businesspeople to traditionally worship Lakshmi and Ganesha as they equate wealth with happiness. On Diwali, traders close old accounts books and open new ones for the year – symbolic of an auspicious financial start.
Ganesha’s role on Diwali is also very interesting and practical. It shows us that religious rituals have deep spiritual implications, only if we are open to understand them. Like power, unchecked wealth often leads to the destruction of not only the person, but also ends up harming society.
Wealth, if used for a higher purpose of uplifting society and alleviating the pain of those who do not possess it, is liberating and a cause to celebrate. Ganesha, who is known for his wisdom, is simultaneously worshipped along with Lakshmi, to bring blessings of good intelligence to that person who is blessed with wealth, so that the wealth can be used judiciously for higher good. Reckless usage of wealth often leads to divaliya (bankruptcy).
Decoding Diwali in modern life
This is a wonderful divine example of the checks and balances system of a democracy. Power and wealth is balanced with wisdom. In a very subtle manner, devotees are guided to raise their sights on higher purposes of helping the needy. In fact, being charitable – especially anna daan (giving food) and vastra daan (giving clothes) to the needy – is one of the most effective way to repay past karmic debts, thus, helping the soul to move towards liberation.
Reflection of the divine drama is often seen in everyday modern life, where a child seeks pocket money from the mother (Goddess Lakshmi) as a strict father (Lord Vishnu) might not heed the request. Another senior member of the family (Lord Ganesha) often guides the newly rich child to spend the money well and not fritter it away on an ice cream.
Similarly, gambling or playing cards during Diwali often leads to loss of large amounts of money, sometimes leading the loser to misfortune or divaliya (bankruptcy)
or even a minor version of it for subsequent few days. Lakshmi has an interesting connection to misfortune. Her older sister is Alakshmi, who is known as the Goddess of Misfortune. In fact, she is often represented by an owl, which – in turn – is Lakshmi’s companion. Here again, iconography weaves a subtle meaning that misfortune often accompanies great wealth, if it is not guarded or used with prudence (which is a blessing from Ganesh).
Gods always talk to us in a subtle language. It is upto us to hear and understand them. Let’s celebrate Diwali and pray for the inextinguishable light of wisdom laced with the sweetness of wealth than the ugly bang of divaliya.