- This event has passed.
Sunday, November 15 @ 10:30 am - 11:30 am
Diwali is the annual Festival of Lights celebrated in India, and follows a long tradition that some say predate Hinduism itself. This service will offer an opportunity to consider what insights can be gleaned from this ancient festival, and what meaning the story of Ram and Sita may hold for us today. Swapnesh Dubey, a social activist/director/actor in Mumbai, will be delivering the message on Diwali via video.
Swapnesh Dubey graduated with a master’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Mumbai. For three years he was an anchor with Sudarshan News in Noida, India, until the day he was handed a piece of anti-gay propaganda to read on the air; his refusal to read the piece led to his dismissal. Since that time he has been a radio/online media host, actor, director and social activist in Mumbai.
how to attend
• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.
For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.
Religious Education for children and youth begins at 9:30 a.m. in the same room! Learn more here.
If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.
Service is followed by Coffee Hour.
Every year around October and November, Hindus around the world celebrate Diwali or Deepavali – a festival of lights that stretches back more than 2,500 years. And in India, the five-day celebration marks the biggest holiday of the year. We all hear all these stories that how Diwali started from religious textbooks but is that really true? [Or is there] some other story behind it? Is it really about Rama’s return to Ayodhya after killing Ravana, or is it about something much more real?
Like many Hindu festivals, there is not just one reason to celebrate the five day holiday. The ancient celebration is linked to multiple stories in religious texts and it’s impossible to say which came first, and when exactly Diwali started. Many stories are about the triumph of good over evil. In Northern India, a common tale associated with Diwali is about King Rama, one of the incarnations of the god Vishnu. When an evil king in Lanka Ravana captures Rama’s wife Sita, he builds up an army of monkeys to rescue her. The monkeys build a bridge over from India to Sri Lanka and they invade Sri Lanka and free Sita and kill that evil.
As Rama and Sita return North, millions of lights are spread out across the city Ayodhya to help them come back home, just to welcome them.
Lighting lamps has long been one of the ways that Hindus celebrate Diwali
If we look to south India, Diwali is popularly linked to a story about the Hindu god Krishna, a different incarnation of Vishnu, in which he frees some 16,000 women from another evil king. In the western state, the new year comes with Diwali. Also Diwali is associated with asking the goddess Lakshmi for prosperity in the coming year.
Before going into detail of how Diwali is much different than religious factors associated with it, I want you to give you some details of what we do during Diwali.
The primary spiritual tradition for Diwali is doing puja in the evening for goddess Mahalkshmi, inviting her into our homes, our lives. As part of praying, we wash and clean our thresholds and mark them with her footprints made out of KUMKUM, as well as draw the ancient and holy SWASTIKA symbol, which represents the wheel of life, prosperity and Dharma.
People also make beautiful Rangolis in front of the house which are patterns and designs made out of colored sand or even chalk. The threshold stands as our doorway to the world, where inner meets outer, and we want it to be welcoming, auspicious [different word?] and a pure space for connection.
Another hallmark of Diwali is food. People cook all kinds of delicious fresh food and it is a day for feasting. Two highly unhealthy and delicious Diwali staples are traditional Diwali snacks which are usually fried, with a spicy, savory taste.
So this how actually we celebrate Diwali in India.
Now let’s investigate how it actually started, leaving the religious angle behind.
Diwali is without doubt India’s answer to America’s Christmas, where the religious aspect takes a backseat and secular shopping comes to the fore.
It all began as a post-monsoon harvest festival. It is also an important festival of traders and money-lenders: a time to balance the books and open new books of accounts. If the harvest was good, debts were repaid and both farmer and money-lender celebrated their fortune. If harvests were bad, this was a time of intense prayer and rituals in hope of a better future.
So this is how Diwali started to be celebrated because we humans celebrate first and foremost our experience and Diwali is all about that. In India we literally celebrate everything Life and Death, seasons, success, achievements. That’s what Diwali is all about. It’s about celebrating the very basic and most important thing for life which is survival. If the harvest is good then celebration and being thankful to Nature and if the harvest is bad then praying to the same Nature to be with us next time. This where Diwali started and then we humans started to weave ever-increasing stories using these to connect, establish or create an order. We should always remember that the harvest came first and then all these religious stories followed.
Also one of the very important aspects of Diwali is Rama’s return to Ayodhya and how everyone was so happy and lit lamps all the way but nobody asks about Sita, his wife. All of the celebration is around Rama and how he fought with the Evil King and rescued Sita.
But while reading the Ramayana one can easily say how Rama insulted Sita on every path of life. When Rama rescued Sita from Lanka, He asked her to go through the fire to prove that she was pure. She went through fire and only after that Agni-Pariksha or Fire test did Rama accept her as his wife.
How disastrous it can be for anyone to go through fire to prove that they are pure. That shows how male-centric the society in in which we still live. Even after returning back to Ayodhya and when Sita was pregnant, Rama got to know that his people were calling him names because he accepted Sita even when she was in other man’s kingdom for such a long time. So he decided to abandon her to place himself as a great King.
Leaving a pregnant wife because someone said something, and abandoning her in the jungle to live or die. Can you see the hypocrisy here? First this same Rama says that he will never let Sita go through any difficulty. Then this same Rama rescues her from Lanka and then abandons her in the same jungle where he himself promised her all happiness in the world.
How could anyone possibly celebrate this? Insult a woman, making her a second class citizen, using her as a tool to set precedent of a good King and then throwing her out to die or live.
In India we call Rama as god. But was he really a god? Obviously the Ramayana has many parts written and I am quite sure that it was just a story or just some man that lived some time in the world whom people called ‘perfect king.’
And interestingly this same Ramayana says that even in the jungle when Sita had two sons, she seems to be telling them not to insult King Ram as he is god of the kingdom. Can we imagine her saying that after all what she has been through?
Now here comes a very interesting point. This Ramayana is considered as a perfect piece on which Hindus put faith on and try to follow. After knowing how regressive this Ramayana is, if we see people following it then obviously we will see women treated as tools, crimes against women, exploitation of women. Because this all Rama himself did with Sita. He doubted her, he asked her to give the fire test to prove her chastity, she suffered with him in the jungle for 14 years and even after that he threw her out after returning to Ayodhya. And still Sita says nothing but cries, and lets everything happen to her.
That’s exactly what most Hindu men want women to be. Why, you ask? “Because Sita in the Ramayana was like that. And if Sita can be then why can’t other women be like her?” That’s the reason why mentality towards women is not changing here – because our religious books are full of examples where women are helpless, dependent and under the control of their husbands.
We have many festivals where we pray to goddesses but mostly for reasons like how she followed her husband, how she never complained after suffering, how she kept weeping all the time but never left her husband alone. If these are the standards of being a woman then no wonder we see violence against women in such a huge numbers. Every 16 minutes in India we see one rape case, according to crime bureau data. I am ashamed to say even in rape cases people say that it must be the woman’s fault. That’s exactly what happened with Sita. Even after the fire test, someone in Ayodhya said something about her and Rama said, “You need to go back to the jungle, Sita.”
See the struggle which one needs to go through when your religious books tell you how women should suffer the violence. Even women follow the Ramayana because it is considered ‘God’s book.’ And they think “If Sita can take it, then why can’t we?”
Sita was in incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and Rama was God Vishnu’s Incarnation. And ironically, in Diwali we pray to Goddess Laxmi for prosperity. The very goddess which we insulted, which we doubted and made live a miserable life. That same Goddess we pray to every year and never feel ashamed of what was done to her.
If we keep digging deep into this story we will end up discovering a lot of things which need to be seen before adding the Ramayana reference to Diwali. But let’s move on and talk for a moment about a few real-life rituals people do without connecting it to any religious angle.
People who actually know the celebration of Diwali pray to nature. They believe that if there is a god at all then it is nature and nothing else. And if we see deeper into what that means, we understand why Diwali is so important. This is the very festival where we humans give thanks to nature for providing everything we need to survive in this world. This is the very festival where we humans apologise to nature for causing problems. This festival literally means coming to light from darkness. Leaving our mistakes behind and starting new chapter of life.
Leaving all anger, sadness and rivalry behind and stepping into new chapter full of love of life.
Leaving failure behind and stepping into a bigger start with what you have.
Trying to light your inner self and thereby making the whole world bright.
That’s what Diwali is, was and always will be.
Diwali is sharing. Diwali is caring,
Diwali is light. Diwali is bright.
Lights are to show your path, to help you reach where you want.
Love, smile and hope is Diwali,
The future’s lovely path is Diwali.
On that note, I wish you all happy Diwali and let’s [illuminate] our internal demons this Diwali by putting a light of humanity all around us. Wherever we are, always remember that we all are connected by this light.
Thank you so much.