Although it was debated whether Deepavali was actually supposed to be on the 29th or 30th of October, we just conducted a brief celebration in the afternoon of the 29th as it was the stipulated public holiday here in Singapore and we did not want any confusion in the minds of the public. We just want more people to come and take advantage of that holiday and spend it in the most judicious manner.
We observed the afternoon ārati with kīrtana followed by a short discourse on the importance and import of the Deepavali festival. And, is there a festival that goes without a sumptuous prasādam feast? We had scores of varieties of prasādam for the festival and the guests were totally spoilt for choice.
Historical Importance of Deepavali
At Hare Kṛṣṇa temples the world over, we do not particularly celebrate Deepavali but we can always make it a good reason to get people to assemble and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma Hare Hare. There are two primary reasons why Vaiṣṇavas observe Deepavali.
- Lord Rāmacandra, along with His wife Sītā, His brother Lakṣmaṇa and His dear devotee Hanumān, returned to Ayodhyā after having been in exile for 14 years. The last year of exile was spent preparing for battle with the great demon Rāvaṇa after he had kidnapped Sītā away from Rāma. So after having killed Rāvaṇa and regained Sītā-devī, Lord Rāma triumphantly returned to Ayodhyā on this day. All the denizens of Ayodhyā, who were grief-stricken during his absence, welcomed Him and His party by offering them a lamp with unbounded joy.
- Lord Kṛṣṇa killed the tyrannous demon Narakāsura and freed the 16,000 princesses whom he had kidnapped and captured. The princesses then wanted Lord Kṛṣṇa as their husband. He gave shelter to all of them by accepting all of them as His wives. One should not misunderstand this pastime and consider Kṛṣṇa a woman-hunter. The relationship between Him and His queens is never to be equated to mundane sexual relationships. It is totally on the spiritual platform. The difference is like that between iron and gold. To understand more deeply about Lord Kṛṣṇa, one is advised to read the book “Kṛṣṇa — Supreme Personality of Godhead” which is nothing but an English translation of the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad Bhagavatam rendered by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, the foremost devotional scholar of the Vedānta philosophy in modern times.
The Myth of Deepavali Celebrations
Hindus the world over are busy lighting their homes and hoping some good luck would swing their way and that they would have a more comfortable material situation. This is far from what it is all about. Do you observe that there is hardly anything concrete in all those wishes and hopes? And do you also see that the lighting of lamps has nothing to do with lighting up your life?
Just take this scenario — suppose you want to start a business, do you just light some lamps and hope for the business to just start and grow? Or how about going and purchasing some stuff from the market? Or how about doing just about anything else? We cannot just wish for things to happen while doing nothing or doing unrelated things. We have to work towards it.
This is especially true when it comes to spiritual advancement. As the adage goes, God helps those who help themselves. Real help to oneself is to make endeavor in developing one’s Kṛṣṇa consciousness because by becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious, one becomes fit to cross this ocean of nescience and attain the kingdom of God and completely and effectively terminate all problems arising from repeated material birth and death.
The Practical Significance
The lamps we light in the house are symbolic. The real lamp we should light is the lamp of knowledge in the heart. Only Kṛṣṇa can light that. But He lights it in the heart of one who has developed loving devotional service unto Him. In the Bhagavad-gītā (10.10-11), He says,
“To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. Out of compassion for them, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.”
Let’s face it. We are in ignorance. We don’t know who we are, why we came into this world, why this creation exists and what happens after death. This ignorance has to be dispelled. As long as the darkness of ignorance prevails, mankind will be blind to the Absolute Truth. As long as mankind is blind to it, sense gratification will continue and everyone is bound to commit sinful activity and thus continue in the vicious cycle of birth and death.
The Vedic scripture called Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad (1.3.28) says
asato mā sad-gamaya
tamaso mā jyotir gamaya
mṛtyor mā amṛtam gamaya
om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ
“Don’t stay in this temporary material existence, go to the eternal spiritual world. Don’t stay in the darkness of ignorance. Go to the light of knowledge. Don’t remain in this kingdom of death. Become immortal by returning back to Godhead and thus achieve complete peace.”
So how to develop this knowledge of God in order to dispel the darkness of ignorance? Śrī Kṛṣṇa gives the formula in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.55):
bhaktyā mām abhijānāti
yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā
“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.”
Your Next Step
The bottom line is this. We have to develop our loving devotional service to Kṛṣṇa. So what is the next step we can take to achieve this goal? Śāstra recommends, ādau gurv-āśrayam — “First of all, take shelter of a bona fide spiritual master to learn the science of devotional service.”
What does taking shelter of a spiritual master mean? And how to find a bona fide spiritual master in the first place? Well, fortunately for us, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda is available to be approached by reading his books and associating with his devotees and disciples.
By submissive aural reception of the transcendental message given by the pure devotee, one can effortlessly understand the glories of the Supreme Lord. Since such hearing coupled with the chanting of the holy name of Kṛṣṇa — Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma Hare Hare — cleanses the dust of materialism from the heart of the audience, one will proportionately develop the sublime loving service attitude towards Kṛṣṇa. In this way one’s life will become completely successful.