Deepavali means “the array of lights.” “Thamasomaa jyotirgamaya” (Lead me from darkness to light) is a Upanishadic prayer: This means that where there is darkness light is needed. What is this darkness? Sorrow is one form of darkness. Peacelessness is another. Loss is another. Disappointment is one form of darkness. Misery is yet another. Lack of enthusiasm is another. All these are different forms of darkness. To get rid of the darkness of sorrow, you have to light the lamp of happiness. To dispel the darkness of disease, you have to install the light of health. To get over the darkness of losses and failures, you have to usher in the light of prosperity.
Looking at the Deepavali festival from the scientific point of view, it should be noted that at one time in the distant past, our ancestors lived in the Arctic region (the polar region). In this region, darkness prevailed for six months. The sun appears on Mesha Sankranthi day (the sun entering the Aries sign of the Zodiac). The sun sets in this region on Tula Sankranthi day (when the sun enters Libra). In the movement between these two signs, there is an interval of six months. After the sun sets in Libra, the dark half-year starts.
Today is Chathurdasi (the fourteenth day) in the month of Karthik. It is Amavasya (New Moon day). The month is called Kaumudi. The people in the polar region used to start lighting their lamps from this day. The lighting of the lamp is not without other significance. As they would be in darkness for a long period, they described the lamp that was lit as Nithyajyothi (the perennial light).
It was on Deepavali day that Sri Rama’s coronation took place after his victorious return to Ayodhya from Lanka vanquishing Ravana and his Rakshasa brood. For a long period, Ayodhya had been plunged in darkness when Rama was in exile in the forest. In the absence of the effulgent Rama, Ayodhya was a city of darkness. The forests were filled with light. The return of Rama was hailed by the people of Ayodhya as the return of divine effulgence and hence they celebrated the event by the lighting of lamps everywhere.
Nor is that all. Today’s festival is marked by other significant features. This is the day on which the Lord in His Vamana incarnation sent the Emperor Bali to the Nether World after He got the promise of three feet of ground (measured by the Lord’s foot) from Bali. Vamana (as the incarnation of Vishnu) used the gift of three feet of land to put down the Ahamkara (egotism) of Bali.
Deepavali is a festival which is designed to celebrate the suppression of the Ego by the Higher Self. Man is plunged in the darkness of ignorance and has lost the power of discrimination between the permanent and the evanescent. When the darkness of ignorance caused by Ahamkara (the ego-feeling) is dispelled by the light of Divine knowledge, the effulgence of the Divine is experienced. Deepavali is also the day on which Emperor Vikrama ditya ascended the throne.
If the darkness of ignorance is to be dispelled, man needs a container, oil, wick and a matchbox corresponding to what an external lamp needs. For man, the heart is the container. The mind is the wick. Love is the oil and vairagya (sacrifice) is the matchbox. When you have these four, Atma-jyothi (the Divine flame of the Spirit) shines effulgently. When the light of the Spirit is aflame, the Light of Knowledge appears and dispels the darkness of ignorance.
The flame of a lamp has two qualities. One is to banish darkness. The other is a continuous upward movement. Even when a lamp is kept in a pit, the flame moves upwards. The sages have therefore adored the lamp of wisdom as the flame that leads men to higher states. Hence, the effulgence of light should not be treated as a trivial phenomenon. Along with lighting the external lamps, men should strive to light the lamps within them. The human estate should be governed by sacred qualities. This calls for the triple purity of body, mind, and speech–Trikarana Suddhi (purity of the three instruments).
The inner significance of Deepavali is to lead man from darkness to light. Man is perpetually plunged in darkness. Every time he is enveloped in darkness, he should light a lamp that is ever shining within him. Carry that lamp wherever you go. It will light your path wherever you may be.