Diwali is an integral part of Hindu culture

  • 2nd November 2002
  • 2002
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Labour Leader Mahendra Chaudhry has called on Hindus as they celebrate Diwali to understand the deeper meaning behind Diwali and not just focus on the gaiety of the festival.

Speaking at Diwali celebrations in Ba on Friday night organised by the Shree Sanatan Dharam Pratinidhi Sabha, Chaudhry said Diwali was much more than just lights, sweets and fireworks.

The full text of his speech is given below:

Diwali is one of the most colourful and popular festivals in the Hindu calender.

The name itself, Diwali or Deepawali, means a garland of lights which is why it is known as the festival of lights. The festivity conjures up images of gaiety and happiness, of a multitude of sparkling diyas illuminating homes and courtyards, fireworks beautifying the skies, the exchange of sweets, and of course, prayers at home.

The real reasons why Diwali is celebrated is shrouded in the antiquities of India’s ancient past which goes back many thousands of years. The most popular reason, of course, is the celebration of Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya and his coronation as a king after spending 14 years in exile.

The other significance of Diwali is that, in rural India, it marked the end of the harvest season. End of harvest, meant money from the sale of produce which in turn meant that the villagers could afford to buy new clothes and other things needed for the home, carry out maintenance work on the house and get ready for another year and a new crop. It was also the time to offer special prayers of thanksgiving to the Divine for a successful harvest, hence the Lakshmi Pujan.

To many of us in Fiji however, these reasons no longer apply. Yet we celebrate Diwali with as much gusto and zest as the people in India do. Why? Tonight I want us to think deeply about why Diwali still has so much significance in our lives. What message does it have for us today? Are we still just celebrating the return of the Crown Prince of Ayodhya from banwaas?

Or do we celebrate Diwali because it has a much deeper meaning and significance for us in our everyday lives here in Fiji? How many of us as we light the diyas and candles on Monday will pause to think about what we are doing and why we are doing it?

Let me say to you that the festival of Diwali has transcended beyond the reasons for its origin. How or why it originated is not important. What is important is what meaning it has for us in this day and age, in our present lives. We celebrate Diwali today because it has become embedded in our Hindu culture. The tradition of Diwali is an integral part of our society, our norms, our religious beliefs and values.

It is part of our identity as Hindus and the Festival of Lights is today a celebration of the beauty of our culture, our Hindu values which, let me assure you, are second to none in the world.

Take for instance the Ramayan, which along with the Mahabharat is classed among the world’s greatest epics, if not the greatest. What makes it so great? The Ramayan is not just the story of Ram and Sita, or the story of Ram’s banwaas.

The Ramayan embodies the Hindu culture and its values. Shri Ramchandra is the ideal purush, Sita the ideal wife, Dasharath the ideal father and Bharat and Lakshman the ideal brothers. Every episode in the Ramayan, every little incident has a lesson, a moral for us human beings. That is why the Ramayan is regarded as our scriptures and is recited at every Hindu home and village.

In the story of Lord Rama, sage Valmiki the seer and poet who wrote the Ramayan, embodied the teachings of the Vedas and the Upanishads. The story of Ramayan dates back to some 3000-4000 years before Christ – it is at least 6000 years old today, if not older.

Yet, it has as much relevance to our daily lives today as it did thousands of years ago – the Ramayan like the Mahabharat and the Bhagwat Geeta is ageless, immortal. Even in this age of technology and space missions, we still draw succour and strength from it.

Sri Ramchandraji is everything that is virtuous and worthy of reverence. He is Karma Yogi: the embodiment of renunciation, self-discipline and duty. That is why he is known throughout the world as Adarniye purush – the ideal personality.

But apart from the personality of Shri Ram, the Ramayan as I have said earlier is full of teachings and that is why it still has so much meaning (mahatwa) in our lives today.

The story of King Dasharath opens with the episode of Sharvan Kumar and his blind parents. Think of the beauty of this little story. The selfless devotion of Sharvan Kumar to his blind parents. How beautiful is that love between father, mother and son.

Can you imagine a son brought up on Western standards today showing that kind of selfless love for his parents. Definitely not. Today’s children would regard blind parents as an unwanted burden. They would chafe at such responsibilities and say: why should I ruin my life, my opportunities in the service of my blind, utterly dependent parents? I’ll put them in the Old People’s Home and visit them occasionally and send money.

We see similar love and attachment between Dasharath’s three wives and his children. They may have been born of different mothers but the brothers’ love for each other was immortal.

Can you think of another story in this world that is more beautiful than the story of Bharat Milap? Bharat’s love and devotion for his elder brother transcended all worldly gains and glories. The chance to accede to the throne of Ayodhya held no lure for this man who’s only aim was to live in the shadow and service of his brother.

Look at the renunciation and love of Lakshman for his Shri Ram. At the drop of a pin, he willingly gave up the luxury of life in the palace, his wife, all his pleasures to accompany his brother into exile in the forest.

The tragedy of Keikei is also significant. It shows how a woman can destroy everything that is beautiful when she succumbs to greed, the lure of power and wiles of a malicious Mantra. These things happen even in this day and age. History is full of stories of how mothers have plotted and killed to get their sons to the throne.

Let us move from the family level to a higher plane, the national level. What does the Ramayan teach us of Statecraft – of politics and the responsibilities of those in power and its subjects.

In Ayodhya we see democracy at work. When Dasharath decided to make Ram king, he conferred with his ministers and advisers and then he sent out his men to find out whether his decision would be accepted by the people of Ayodhya.

In a later episode, when Ram as king hears of the laundryman contemptuous reference to his wife, Sita: he renounces her to keep his subjects happy. This may be an extreme situation but it shows how responsive a good ruler must be to the sensitivities of his people.

Ram Rajya of course has become the epitome of good governance, as we call it in modern day. It is known as the Golden Years of Ayodhya when the State flourished and prospered under a just, liberal and kindly ruler who put the interests of his people before his own needs.

The story of Ram is always seen as the triumph of good over evil. That it is. Ram eventually destroyed the evil forces of Ravana and his demons. But the Ramayan, in fact, goes beyond this.

It teaches us that if society is to prosper, the rich and the powerful must protect and look after those who are weak and defenceless. It teaches us that we must fight injustice and whatever is wrong and unfair.

When Vishwamitra approaches King Dasharath for the help of his sons in vanquishing the demons who were making life hell for the Rishis and munis in the forests, Dasharath was unwilling to part with his young sons, not yet out of their teens.

Yet duty prevailed over his own selfish needs and he let Ram and Lakshman go with Vishmitra. The point I wish to emphasise here is that we should not relish in our own prosperity and forget about the plight of the helpless around us.

We may not have the ancient demons to fight against today. But there are the modern day ones who heap injustices on society. there are other unfortunate people among us, whom we should not forget in the enjoyment of our own riches.

As a special reference, let me refer to the plight of hundreds of tenant farmers who have been evicted from their farms and are today homeless and destitute. So many people who lost their jobs after the coup and still have no source of income because the economy has still not recovered to its pre-coup levels. Children from these unfortunate families have been forced to drop out of schools. For them it is a dark Diwali with no candles, sweets or fireworks to bring sparkle to their lives.

Is it not our duty to care for these hapless families? Let each one of us make a pledge tonight to assist at least one needy family this Diwali. For those us who can afford to do so – why not for the entire year?

In doing so, Ramayan teaches us that all human beings are born equal – there can be no distinction of caste and wealth among people. Don’t we see this in the beautiful story of Sabri – the untouchable who fed Ram with so much love?

Our Hindu culture, both the Ramayan and the Mahabharat teach us to stand up for our dharma, to fight against all that is unjust and an assault on our rights. In their assault on the rishis, the Rakshas were attacking the rights of these ascetics to live and pray peacefully and without any hindrance.

In Sita haran, we see Ravan, the rakshas king making an assault on Ram – his dignity, his pride and his self-respect. It was an assault Shri Ram did not allow to go unchallenged.

Our Dharam teaches us that we must fight against injustice, that we must stand up for our rights. As a community, we need to learn from such teachings.

Time and again, we as a people have been assaulted:

our political rights have been taken away from us
our children are being discriminated against in their schools
we face discrimination in State assistance given to others
We face discrimination in civil service jobs, the allocation ofscholarships and training opportunities
how many times have we been denied protection of our property and personal safety through police inaction and laxity?

Are we going to sit back as a community and accept these injustices? It is always a temptation to take the easy way out, the path of least resistance!

How many times have I been advised to accept the position of Leader of the Opposition and to forget about our right to be included in the Cabinet and to form part of the government. It would be the easy way out. I would be the Leader of Opposition, pick up a hefty salary, have a car and driver at my disposal and be consulted on all key decisions and appointments.

If I was thinking only of myself, I would do this. But taking this easy step will not assure us the rights of our people, of my Party, will it?

The Hindu Dharam teaches us to fight against all forms of injustices, to fight corruption and to fight for one’s self-respect and dignity.

This is why it is so important for you as parents to inculcate these values in your children. Teach them the Hindu religion, expose them to the teachings of the Ramayana, the Mahabharat, the Bhagwad Geeta.

This is my message to you tonight. We as a community have become so immersed in rituals and hundreds of paraphernalia when it comes to religion that we are no longer aware of the real wisdom of Hinduism.

We pray at our homes every morning, we hold ritual prayers every so often but do we know what Hinduism teaches, do we know what the Vedas are all about? Do we know the Bhagwad Geeta?

Can our children read and write Hindi? Language is at the root of all culture – and yet how many of our schools teach Hindi and how many Indian parents take the pride to ensure their children can read and write Hindi?

Hindi is recognised as one of the most beautiful languages in the world and yet in Fiji some are talking of formalising a corrupt form of our language. What nonsense is this! You can speak any form of Hindi you want to – be it Fiji Hindi, Bhojpuri, or whatever but written Hindi must be the formal Hindi.

You corrupt your language, you corrupt your culture. Very soon we will realise we don’t have a language, we don’t have a culture.

Wake up now. Children have the capacity to absorb a lot. They can learn English, Fijian and a whole lot of other languages you may consider useful. But they must know their matra bhasha or mother tongue.

They must know their tradition and culture and understand their roots, where they come from. Preservation of one’s culture is a must – whether we be Indians or Fijians.

Only on these foundations, can we create a cohesive, strong society; a community aware of its rights and responsibilities.