While our subcontinent gears up to celebrate the festival of lights–Diwali/Deepavali–this November, it would be apt to dwell on the significance of the festival in relation to the Word of God revealed to us. The religious significance of Diwali varies across the different Indic traditions in different geographies.
In the North, Diwali marks the return of Rama to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile. In the South, Krishna is said to have killed the demon king Narakshura and liberated the women he held captive. Hindus of Eastern India associate the festival with Kali- the divine protector and destroyer of evil. Diwali is observed among Jains as the day Mahavira’s soul attained moksha/final release. Buddhists remember Emperor Ashoka who adopted the path of peace by embracing Buddhism on this day in 265BC after tremendous bloodshed in the battle of Kalinga. For Sikhs, Diwali commemorates the day the foundation stone of the Golden Temple was laid in AD1577 and also the release of Guru Hargobind from the clutches of the Mughal emperor Jahangir along with 52 kings in AD1619. There are numerous stories associated with Diwali across South and Southeast Asia. It is a usefully comprehensive festival.
The underlying common theme among all these myths/facts is the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, peace over war and truth over falsehood.
The imagery of Diwali evokes the Bible’s own imagery of light and darkness. It provides an Indian frame for the main narrative of the Bible — the story of God redeeming humanity through the life, work, passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
“Let there be light,” said God and “He separated the light from the darkness”(Genesis 1:3-4). Light is a metaphor for God’s own character. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.”(1 John 1:5). God is the source of all knowledge and truth. “In your light, we see light.”(Psalm 36:9). Jesus claims boldly, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 12:46).
Light also symbolises the ‘Word of God’ (in its written form). “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light unto my path.”(Psalm 119:105). It is through God’s Word that man learns to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, wisdom from folly and reality from illusion.
Despite God revealing the truth to us through His Word, man doesn’t accept it many times as the truth is not selective and so becomes uncomfortable. “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”(John 3:19).
We are given a necessary caution to recognise God’s signs and keep close to the Word of God, “If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged. Then they will see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.”(Isaiah 8:21-22).
However, all is not lost. There is hope for the upright and those who believe, “There will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”(Isaiah 9:1-2). This hope is never lost as the truth always triumphs, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it..”(John 1:5).
We are commissioned to be “children of the light”(Ephesians 5:8) and bear witness to the holiness that God expects of us, “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven”(Matthew 5:16).
And so this Diwali night, I shall add to the festivity by lighting diyas in my balcony. I light them as a celebration of the victory of Jesus, the light of the world, over the evil in the world. I light them to celebrate the Diwali promised to mankind till the end of times; and pledge to lighten up the lives of those in darkness through my actions.
By Binoy Lobo