REFLECTIONS ON DIVALI

      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,

            suryom jyotir , jyotir suryom: The Sun is Light, Light is Sun,

recalling 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  something spectacular.

      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 light.

      Light is  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,

            agnir jyotir, jyotir agnir: Fire is light, light is Fire,

for 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:

            indro jyotir, jyotir indrah: Indra is Light, Light is Indra,

for in the symbolism of the rishis, Indra was the all-powerful principle in the universe.

      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 Krishna played there.

      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 shone not.

      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.