Divali, we all know, is the
Festival of Light. On this occasion I have been asked to say a few words on this
most important of Hindu festivals. In this context, I would like to reflect a
little on the significance of Light in the Universe and in our lives, so that we
may better see why it is appropriate to pay homage to it.
Light is a major instrument in our
interactions with the world around. Without it, we would be condemned to live in
perpetual isolation in a cold corner of the universe, and we would have evolved
in a dismal darkness that would be
as stifling as any self-centered existence.
For it is light that weaves the
distant corners of the universe into a cosmic wholeness. It is light that
informs us of the presence of people and things beyond ourselves. It reveals to
us their shapes and sizes and
beauty. It speaks to us of unreachable celestial bodies, of their nature and
structure; it tells us if far-flung nebulae are approaching us or receding away.
Light is thus the source of all
knowledge. It guides us and it enlarges our vision. It is like a Cosmic teacher,
and it does all this subtly and silently. It says in the Sama Veda,
jyotir , jyotir suryom:
The Sun is Light, Light is Sun,
how light is the source of all knowledge, for in Vedic symbolism the Sun is also
the purifier of the mind.
But there is more to life than
knowledge and information. For the life-experience must include enjoyment also.
Here too light serves us eminently well. There is more to light than mere
brightness. Light it not only vibration of varying intensities, but of varying
durations as well. And this causes colors to arise.
Color is what adds splendor to the world. But for colors, the world would
be a drab gray of changing shades. And yet, it is important to recognize that
color is not intrinsic to light, but a result of interactions between vibrations
and our optical systems. It is the human brain that transforms mere undulations
into magnificent hues. There is a lesson in this: We have the potential to shape
an uninteresting and uninspiring surrounding into
Think of how the properties of
light enhance the charms of the world. The changing colors of the diamond
beetle, for example, arise, not from any pigmentation, but from what we call the
diffraction of light. The glory of the rainbow and the colors of the icicle
result from the simple properties of reflection and refraction. Diamond would be
as inconsequential as a speck of charcoal were it not for light. Rubies,
emeralds and sapphires would be as dark as the depths of hell, if there was no
subtle in its origins. Although we tend to think of firewood and candle,
the lamp and the lantern as sources of light, as we delve deeper, we find that
in truth light arises from the very core of matter from atomic transitions
involving dancing electrons galloping
from orbit to orbit. If we yearn for
wonders, this is what we must reflect upon.
Light is also a life sustaining
principle. For it is sunlight that cleverly collaborates with the green of the
earth to produce all the food that sustains and nourishes Life on our planet. If
we look for miracles, this is where we find one. As a Vedic rishi declared,
jyotir, jyotir agnir: Fire is light, light is Fire,
in Vedic symbolism, agni is the
eternal life-giving principle.
There is nothing more universal
than light. Light spans every nook and corner of the physical universe, and it
has been there since the first Big Bang of cosmic creation. Its power is like
that of the Vedic Indra, which is why it was declared:
jyotir, jyotir indrah: Indra is Light, Light is Indra,
in the symbolism of the rishis, Indra was the all-powerful principle in the
There is nothing we know of that is
as omniscient or omnipresent
as light. It has all the qualities of the Divine Principle. If anything is
worthy of universal worship, it is indeed light.
That is why light is taken to
represent all that is positive and glorious in the human experience. That is why
light stands for knowledge, as darkness stands for ignorance. That is why light
stands for justice, as darkness for injustice. That is why light stands for
truth as darkness stands for untruth.
This is the sublime message in our
epics and purnas: the expression of a spiritual insight and also of a historical
optimism that keeps the human spirit aglow. This is what elevates and ennobles
the Hindu spirit. When Lord Krishna is said to annihilate Kamsa, it is to
symbolize the termination of evil in the world. When the asuras are slaughtered by Kšli, it is to remind us that even after
long stretches of oppression, justice will be established again. When Rama and
Sita return to Ayodhya, it is a symbol of the reinstatement of joy
after a long period of sorrow. Unfortunately, all too often, we miss the
inner meaning and cling on to the superficial story, quarreling about whether
Rama was born here, or
And beyond all this, there is also
the spiritual dimension of light. Jyoti refers
not only to the physical phenomenon of light
but also to its ecstatic and mystical aspects. It is stated in the Rigveda:
ayam rocayad aruco rocano
Shining, He caused to shine what
In other words, when that supreme light enters the spirit, we become
light itself. What this means is that in the truly enlightened state, even as
light encompasses the entire universe, we begin to see the oneness behind the
many, and we embrace every race and creed, every religion and ritual as our own.