Today we mark a day of solemnity, remembering all those who fought for our country. I salute you on Veterans Day, especially those of you I came to know well in Iraq. I think of you often, not just on days reserved to honor you.
Today is also a day of joy. It’s the festival of lights. Happy Diwali, everyone!
Hindus and Jains mark the day by decorating their homes and streets with rows and rows of diyas, or oil lamps. Well, these days, many folks use more convenient candles or electrical lamps.
Light is such an important metaphor in so many religions. It is the presence of a higher being. Hindus see light also as a metaphor for self-awareness and self-improvement.
The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit Deepawali — a row of lights. The festival celebrates a triumph of good over evil.
The story stems from the Hindu epic, “Ramayana,” in which Prince Rama returns to the kingdom of Ayodhya from 14 long years of exile with his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakhsmana. Rama comes back a hero after defeating the nasty Ravana, the 10-headed king of the demons.
Rama becomes king and Ayodhya prospers in peace.
This was my favorite story of all from the Hindu epics, partly because I was born on Lakshmi puja, the day when Hindus pray to the goddess of prosperity. Sita is an avatar of Lakshmi, just as Rama is an avatar of the god Vishnu, the preserver.
The story of the good Sita ends with a dramatic account of the ground splitting apart and Sita enters Earth’s womb. It’s a rescue for her from the cruel world that challenged her purity.
My pishi (aunt) read me stories from the Ramayana when I was a little girl. On Thursdays, I sat with her and my great-aunt in a mezzanine level room that housed the altars to the gods. The two women chanted mantras in Sanskrit in worship of Lakshmi while I gazed on the idols and detailed photos of the gods and goddesses, especially Lakshmi.
I think of those days every year on Diwali. I am so far from home and feel so connected at times through my memories. I don’t have diyas at my home but tonight I will light a candle and think of all the times I have borne witness to goodness winning over evil, something I don’t do often enough.