Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why is it that we start every auspicious occasion, very often even every day, by lighting a lamp?

Today is Deepavali. And in memory of the triumph of good over evil, and that no matter how deep and impenetrable the darkness may seem, light will always triumph, millions of lamps will be lit all over the land. Twinkling, sparkling, shimmering as if armies of stars have descended from skies to reprimand the darkness for having the nerve to think that it would ever win.
Many of these lights will come on at the mere flick of a switch, many others will be in colours that our Lord Rama, in whose glory these lamps are being lit, would never have seen and many more will wink and blink and perform visual calisthenics that is only possible because of modern technology.
But, as we delight at these marvels of electricity, let us take a few moments to revisit the humble little oil lamp or the diya.
Why is it that we start every auspicious occasion, very often even every day, by lighting a lamp? Why is it that generations of us have grown up watching the glow of the aarti lamps light up the face of our ishta devi or devata? Why is it that in the puja thali filled with other offerings like flowers and incense, a diya is always there? Why is it that there is something sacred in the lighting of a lamp, that it is almost always an act of worship, an offering, even a supplication to something divine?
Well, I guess it’s because the connection with light is primordial. With the sun and fire, one without which life as we know on this planet is not possible, the other which constitutes the 5 elements of which all matter is made of. And beyond that, all knowledge is impossible without light – the light to read a book by, the light that light ups the computer screen, the light inside a microscope, the light to take a photograph. Therefore light symbolizes our journey from ignorance into enlightenment and therefore, light represents Divinity itself.  Swami Chinmayanda said, “The Lord is the "Knowledge Principle" (chaitanya) who is the source, the enlivener and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshiped as the Lord himself. Hence we light the lamp to bow down to knowledge as the greatest of all forms of wealth Why not light a bulb or tube light? That too would remove darkness. But the traditional oil lamp has a further spiritual significance. The oil or ghee in the lamp symbolizes our vaasanas or negative tendencies and the wick, the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the vaasanas get slowly exhausted and the ego too finally perishes. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards. Similarly we should acquire such knowledge as to take us towards higher ideals. Whilst lighting the lamp we thus pray: 
Deepajyothi parabrahma
Deepa sarva tamopahaha
Deepena saadhyate saram
Sandhyaa deepo namostute

I prostrate to the dawn/dusk lamp; whose light is the Knowledge Principle (the Supreme Lord), which removes the darkness of ignorance and by which all can be achieved in life.”
The enlightening and purifying symbolism of the flame of a lamp or a candle spills across almost all religions and cultures and always it means the same thing. The triumph of the spirit, the reaffirmation of the divine, the expelling of darkness, inside and around us.
So, light a lamp. Not just today, because it is Deepavali, but everyday. Find a small, quiet, clean niche in your home – in the puja room or the bedroom. And there, everyday as the sun rises or as dusk falls, light a diya. And as flames quivers into life and stretches up in a namaskara, imagine its golden glow spreading inside you, dispelling the darkness sorrow and pain and negativity. Feel its light purifying the space inside and outside you. And then imagine it to be the little shining beacon that will lovingly, gently beckon into and bless your home and your heart all that is good, beautiful and divine…
Happy Diwali.

The Jewish festival of Lights
Hanukkah is a Jewish festival also called "The Festival of Lights". It marks the victory of reclaiming of the ancient and holy Jewish temple in Jerusalem by the Jews from the oppressive control of the Greek King Antiochus IV. As the story goes, once the temple came back into Jewish hands, it had to be deconsecrated. But there was only enough sacramental oil in temple to burn for just one day. Yet when the lamps were lit, they burned miraculously for 8 days, the time that was needed to prepare a fresh supply of oil. Hence the festival is celebrated for 8 days.
So, in the memory of this, the Jews light candles in a special candle stand called a "menorah" or a "hanukkiah" which holds 9 nine candles. The central candle, called the "shamash", is lit every night and used to light the other candles. Along with the shamash, one more candle is lit on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah so that on the eighth night, all 9 candles are burning.  Traditionally, foods fried in oil are eaten during Hanukkah.
The Light of Buddha
In the Buddhist temples of Sri Lanka, the oil lamp plays an important role, both as the illuminated guardian on the inner sanctum of the temple and as an offering during worship. Like the dolosmahe-pahana or the twelve-month lamp, thus named because it is kept burning every day of the year, similar to the nanda deepa in many Hindu temples.
On full-moon days, which are considered auspicious for temple visits, Sri Lankan Buddhists, traditionally offerings coconut oil for the temple lamps and flowers. The lighting of lamps is also an offering made when redeeming a vow (baraya) or during the ritual (pahan-puja) to counter evil planetary influences. The coconut oil used is specially prepared for the purpose and the wicks are made from a clean, white, fresh cloth. Sometimes an entire village will get together for a mass lamp offering, where for example 84,000 lamps will be lit of each the 84,000 elements of the Dhamma (dhammakkhandha) of the Buddha's Teaching.
This beautiful tradition began when King Dutugemunu (2nd century B.C.), considered the first Singhalese hero, lit 1000 lamps with ghee in twelve sacred places in Anuradhapura. (205 kms from Colombo, a city built around a cutting from the tree under which Buddha attained enlightenment, Anuradhapura is the first capital of Sri Lanka. King Vasabha (1st century A.D.) similarly lit one thousand oil lamps. This ritual, over time, became so popular that it soon was the way that Sri Lankan Buddhists celebrated the annual Vesak festival commemorating the life of the Buddha. In other words, the Buddhist festival of lights.
The Advent Candles
“And the Lord said let there be light”.
Advent is the month before Christmas when Christians prepare for the birth of Jesus Christ. The term comes from the Latin word "adventus", which means coming or arrival. So, on each of the 4 Sundays before Christmas, 4 candles, usually on a wreath of green leaves, are lit, to symbolize that the birth of “the Light of The World” as Christ is also known. Some say that each of the candles represents different aspects of Christ’s birth - the first candle is for hope or expectation
 of Christ's coming; the second, for Bethlehem; the third, for the shepherds; the fourth, for the angels.
The Advent candles are traditionally 3 purple ones and 1 pink. The purple symbolizes royalty, for Christ the King. In earlier Christian times, when Advent was also a period of introspection like Lent, the purple stood for penance.
The pink candle, lighted on the third Sunday, signifies joy.  Many Christians light a fifth larger white candle, placed in the center of the wreath, on Christmas Eve.
The Jain Diwali
The Jains celebrate Diwali as the day when Lord Mahaviar, the 24th Tirtankhara attained Nirvana. On the day before Diwali, early in the morning, Lord Mahavir commenced his last sermon, which lasted until the night of Diwali. At the midnight, in the presence of 18 kings from various parts of North India who were in the audience gathered for the sermon, he left his earthly body. The kings decided that to remind the world of the light that Lord Mahavir had thrown on the path to enlightenment and knowledge, they would light lamps. A tradition that continues to this day….
Did you know…..
·         That the Sanskrit word “taila” for oil comes from “til” (sesame, gingelly) and that til is an ancient symbol of goodness and purity, which is probably why til oil is used so much in pooja lamps?
·         That the oldest clay lamp found is about 4,200 years old.

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