The Hindu festival of Diwali conjures up a celebratory atmosphere and excitement that many in the west would compare to the Christmas season. New items are bought for the home, nowadays many of these are appliances that stores are selling through special discount offers. People dress up and buy new clothes, and electric lights are strung up outside homes and offices.
In fact, light is the central theme of the Diwali festival. Diwali is a shortened form of Deepawali which is a compound of the words deep meaning lamp and awali which means ‘row’. During this festival clay lamps filled with oil and cotton wicks are lit and lined along walls, balconies and homes.
The lamps are lit to commemorate the homecoming of King Ram after he returned from vanquishing the evil demon king Ravana of Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) as the tale goes. To greet the returning King the citizens lit the cities with rows of oil lamps.
To this day this is probably the most common understanding of the rationale behind the Diwali celebration. Although of course there is variation across India. At some point the worship of Laxmi the goddess of wealth, also began to figure prominently in the celebration of Diwali with many families incorporating a Laxmi Puja, liturgical worship to the goddess, into their yearly Diwali schedules. This has colored the celebration in the minds of many with the meaning behind lighting the lamps as an invitation for Laxmi to enter the home with her blessings of wealth and prosperity. The cleaning of the house prior to Diwali and keeping the front door open through the night also go along with the Laxmi variation.
But on the whole Diwali can be seen as an Indian cultural tradition which is not closely associated with idolatry. In India Diwali is an event celebrated by various communities and one need not participate in religious activities to be involved in the lighting of lamps, eating sweets or lighting fireworks.
Actually Diwali is a great time to connect and meet with the Hindu community in your area. Many times Diwali celebrations are open to the public and you can visit the Indian community center in your city to take part. Festivals are ideal times to establish friendships and find common group for communicating the Truths of the Gospel.
The fact that Diwali is surrounded by the concept of light opens up a wonderful door for us to enter and communicate our faith in Jesus as ‘The light of the world’. We can also use the concept of the victorious returning King as a bridge to point to our belief in Jesus as the King of Kings who will return to this world again in victory. Through which we can express that our faith is Jesus isn’t just in a King who died and left this earth, but in one who will return in victory and power having destroyed the works of the enemy.
I have seen the festival of lights inform and shape our expression of worship as we have gathered together with followers of Jesus in India. Melding the tradition of a candlelight service with the celebration of Diwali participants lit their oil lamps from the flame of one center lamp and then in turn lit the lamps of those around them. With quiet prayers on their lips they moved to the darkest corners of the building and placed the lamps where they could be seen as they cast light into the blackness. A song of worship to Jesus rose into the air repeating the words, “Let the lamp burn, let the name of The Lord dwell in the temple of my heart.” As the song came to a close the entire place was filled with flickering light and though it was night the lamps burned all the brighter in the midst of the darkness.
As we approach the festival of Diwali let us pray with passion that the Light of Christ would dispel the shroud of darkness which has settled over the lives of so many. Let’s ask that the King of Glory would be welcomed into hearts who need His touch most this season.