WEST MEETS EAST IN TRADITIONS DURING SPIRITUAL DEEPAAVALI SEASON
(DISCORSE BY N.R. SRINIVASAN, BRENTWOOD, TN, USA, NOVEMBER 1, 2013)
The Spiritual Deepaavali Season may be assumed to start with Mahalaya paksha in the Hindu Month of Aswin (September-October) and ending with Vaikuntha Ekadasi in Margaseersha (December-January) beginning and ending in two different sacred religious days for Hindus with great spiritual significance for the liberation of yearning souls. For detailed description of these two religious ritualistic days refer to Hindu Reflections on the blog.
On the night of October 31, Hindu Americans participated in Halloween willingly or unwillingly to join the stream. Halloween or Hallowe'en is a contraction of "All Hallows' Evening" also known as All Hallows' Eve. Halloween is a Scottish term meaning Holy Evening. Halloween is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on October 31, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows' Day. It initiates the Triduum of Hallowmas, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers, like our Mahalaya Amavasya (October 4) at the end of Mahalay Paksha, the holy fortnight. The dark fortnight of Aswayuja (September—October) is known as the Mahaalaya Paksha or the fortnight sacred for offering oblations to departed ancestors. The last day of this period, the new moon (Amaavaasya) day, is considered most important day in the year for performing obsequies and rites, as in Druid culture on Samhain Eve. Tamils do not celebrate marriage during the Tamil month of Purattasi (as it is sacred month for Sraaddahas) and the following few months and wait eagerly for Thai. According to many scholars "All Hallows' Eve" is a Christianized feast initially influenced by Celtic harvest festivals with possible pagan roots, particularly the Gaelic Samhain. Halloween Night begins with orange lighting in carved pumpkin shell which turns to natural wick lighting oil lamps to American Hindus on Deepavali Night on November 3 this year. Don't you think spiritual Halloween Night is worth remembering in our temples in our joint venture of celebration of cultures if we had skipped Mahalaya Amavasya as we are in the habit of rushing to temples on all American Holidays including Valentine's Day”? It is also a good idea to conduct mass Shraaddha Ceremony ritual to all departed souls on Mahalaya Amaavasya Day following the guidelines of Gaya Shraaddha in Hindu Temples overseas like All Souls Day. All Hindu Temples overseas have included Shraaddha as a scheduled ritual for its devotees to be conducted by the priests in their premises as in Gaya Vishnu Temple on individual basis. Hindus worship nature and cattle population on Govardhan Pooja Day, based on Puraanic story. Similar traditions of worshiping nature and animals can also be seen in Druid Tradition on St. Patrick’s Day.
Today November 1 is Samhain New Year Day. Catholics adopted November 2 as All Souls Day. It is also the day for children to take stock of all the candies collected during the last night of Halloween. Hindus are eager to run to jewelers to buy gold and rush to temple to pray to become rich and prosperous being Dhan Teras day. They then start the Deepaavali celebrations of five days, particularly noticeable in Rajasthan. Dhan Teras focuses its prayers on acquiring wealth. This year Dhan Teras also falls on November1. It does not always coincide with Samhain as in this year. It is the day of celebration of Hindus’ natural thirst for gold earmarking it as an auspicious day for buying gold and worshiping Goddess Lakshmi.
It is up to the elders and parents to progressively switch their hedonistic thoughts based on acquiring and consuming things to one of love of serving and deriving happiness out of it. Research findings reveal happiness based on hedonistic pleasures arise from unhealthy gene profiles which lead to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases as well as promoting increased inflammation throughout the body. On the other hand happiness based on a sense of purpose and service to others (benevolent acts) show profiles that increase the level of antibody producing gene expressions all of which serve to control and protect much of our immune systems. A recent study by researchers from the University of North Carolina and University of California noted that different forms of happiness were associated with different gene expression profiles. So it is in our hands to develop the right kind of happiness. It appears from the study that survival of the fittest perhaps also embraces survival of those human characteristics that portray a caring heart and a desire to perform works of kindness. Geetaa also describes different kinds of happiness---Sreyas and Preyas. Let us think of the work of our philanthropists and thank them during this season, who derive their pleasure and enjoy long life by serving the society.
The social fabric of Hindus is so knitted that no human activity is segregated from the divine. Happiness and love of serving are in our genes. Let us kindle this in us with lights during these festivities instead focusing on material prosperity. It appears from the study above that survival of the fittest perhaps also embraces survival of those human characteristics that portray a caring heart and a desire to perform works of kindness. This is the message sent on these days of Festivals of Lights. Neuroscientists say most humans have mirror neurons that cause us to experience pain when we see others in pain or suffering and that we are hard-wired for empathy. In other words, we have already evolved into moral animals and this process can still be refined and expanded to those humans who are more adaptive to survival based on processing healthy producing genes. This is what we have to keep in mind and also focus on bringing up our children. Celebration of these festivities rekindles our thought with bright lights.
Let us turn our thoughts towards the brighter side of Holiday Season. Let us think of Halloween as the starting of the holiday season of Festival of Lights which turns orange light of Halloween to green and white light during Christmas season in which we also participate in celebrating it with the Nation. Samhain is the festival to think about our ancestors welcome them with orange light (orange is sacred to Hindus) who are no more with us. Majority of Hindu Americans do not attach importance to Mahalaya Paksha unlike people of Celtic Christianity do. Halloween is the time to think about the darkness and look forward to the white light that would bring brightness and happiness into our lives, for Hindus in general and Hindu Americans in particular. It is also the time to gain wisdom looking at the turn of nature, the Fall changing of colors and the growing darkness, which slowly turn to brightness, green foliage, lushing with smiles of nature later after severe winter. Hindu Festivals focus on these spiritual aspects. Hindus also celebrate spring festivals. The caring among us have observed Mahalaya Paksha rituals that started last month (Sept 20) and culminated on October 4, honoring the dead and feeding the starving. They have learnt from one big mistake of Karna and remembered to perform the ritual. As I have said in my previous discourse on the subject. We are celebrating Deepaavali to overcome darkness with bright lights on November 3 distributing sweets and exchanging greetings which actually starts on November 1 to many in the North.
Human nature is covered with lot of Tamoguna or darkness and ignorance. It needs to be over-come with Satvaguna or the brightness and purity of thought. That is why we need light. Demons (asuras) in mythology (puraanas) dominate with Rajoguna and Tamoguna (Ego and Ignorance). Divines (Devas) on the other hand are dominated by Satvaguna or Brightness. The word Deva is derived from the root div to mean shine with brightness.
The Citizens of Mathura celebrated the death of Narakasura (Titan of Darkness) of Prag-jyotisha-pura with lights and merriment as per the last wish granted to him by Krishna. Lord Krishna summoned his Sudarsana Chakra to eliminate the demon on Naraka Chaturdasi day. Krishna cleared the dark clouds of the city. Who can this Titan be but the Dark Force of Ignorance—that is born on Earth—that afflicts the life on Earth and her people, the Ignorance that imprisons light and knowledge? Pragjyotishapura, means the City of Light in the East (Prag=east; jyoti =light; pura=city). Was there a city called Pragjyotishapra, where was it and is the story of Narakasura true some may ask. They may say it is all myth. But the symbolic spiritual significance is no myth. Some Indian Authors in trying to interpret Puraanas as factual in the sense of events in space- time have done as much an injustice to them as the attitude of some Moderns who equate them with stories and fables. Puraanas belong to supra-historical order, and their worth is existential as enduring psychic verities in human consciousness. Their purpose is not to teach, history or geography or science, but to stimulate in man a keen sense of Omniscient, Omnipotent, and all loving Spiritual Reality who can be communed with, prayed to and visualized in various forms of spiritual glory. That is why Narakasura representing Darkness and Pragjyotishapura as a City of Light or metaphorical to convey a deep meaning. May be they both existed too. That is not our concern.
The citizens of Ayodhya who were plunged in darkness struggled hard for oil and wicks to brighten the city of Ayodhya to welcome Rama. But when Rama arrived their trouble was over. No man-made lights were a match to Rama who brought so much light into everybody's life. He had just eliminated the Darkness Ravana and had removed all the fear on Earth and brought confidence in all. One single head of Brightness was enough to remove ten heads of darkness. A single candle removes all the darkness around. Let us follow Lord's footsteps to remove ignorance and brighten the lives of everybody and ennoble the heart in our little capacity. Let us think of Spirituality of Samahin and Deepaavali to bring light and happiness to our lives and overcome the gloom and ghost of the night of Halloween! Let us pray and lend hope to our ancestors to move forward towards liberation!
Gujarati calendar begins a day after Diwali. It begins with Gujarati month of Kartak. Probably those who celebrate New Year on Bali Paadyami after Diwali are part of Dravidians from whom the Druids parted but kept on the tradition of celebrating their New Year with their parted brothers. It is not only a Day for merriment and enjoyment celebrating the New Year but also a great spiritual day when the demon prince Bali though virtuous was unable to get rid of his ego. Ego is a sign of Rajoguna associated with red color which one should get rid of like the Tamoguna the darkness associated with black color with the pleasing white light, Sattvaguna.
1. Swami Sivanada, Hindu Riruals and Festivals, Divine Life Society, Shivanandangar, Uttaranchl, India.
2. Swami Nityanand, Symbolism in Hinduism, Central Chinmaya Mission Trust,, Mumbai, India.
3. Dr Frank H. Boehm, M.D., Hao ppiness, love of serving are in your genes, The Tennessean , October 29, 2013, Nashville, TN. USA.
4. Swami Bhaskarananda, Essentials of Hinduism, Ramakrishna Math, Chennai, India.
5. Srinivasan, N.R., Hindu Reflections, Blog <nrsrini.blogspot.com>