Anant Rambachan (Professor of Religion, St. Olaf College)
Greetings, on the occasion of Diwali, the most popular and widely
celebrated festival in the Hindu world. We are grateful, once again, for
the historic opportunity to celebrate Diwali in the White House with
friends and family, and we express our gratitude to President George W.
Bush and his administration for this joyful honor. Our heartiest
congratulations and best wishes to our President on his resounding
re-election. We look forward to an era of peace and prosperity under his
Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, beautifully mirrors the unity in
diversity that is characteristic of the Hindu tradition and that is
expressed also in the motto from the Great Seal of the United States: E
Pluribus Unum – ï¿½From Many, One.ï¿½ While the stories and traditions
associated with Diwali are many, the one central symbol of the festival is
Light, representing God, goodness, wisdom and happiness. Across religions
and cultures, light is identified with life, hope and faith persisting in
the midst of despair and evil.
Diwali is celebrated in the Hindu month of Kartika, which corresponds to
October-November in the Western calendar. Although Diwali is a festival in
its own right, it is also the climax and culmination of a season of Hindu
festivals that begins during the preceding month of Ashvina
(September-October). This is the month of Navaratri, the festival of Nine
Nights, when the One God is worshipped as Divine Mother in the forms of
Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Following this, Hindus celebrate Dasara or
Vijayadashami, the festival of victory, commemorating the triumph of
goodness over evil and fear. At the end comes Diwali, the festival of
lights and illumination.
The sequence of this season of festivals provides us with a meaningful
way of reflecting, this year, about the significance of Diwali.
Navaratri, which starts the season, offers us a special time to honor God
as mother. Although God transcends all gender categories, God can be
imagined equally as father or as mother. Navaratri begins with the
worship of God as Durga, who is associated with the power and energy of
the divine in creation and in the triumph over evil. Her grace is sought
for the strengthening of our wills, for self-determination in our lives
and for overcoming evil, both within ourselves and in the world.
Powerlessness makes us susceptible to the domination of evil. The freedom
to determine one’s destiny is an important ingredient for a meaningful
human life, but the ultimate source of our power and independence is God.
The worship of the divine as Lakshmi follows the worship of Durga. If
Durga represents the power of the divine and our own need for
self-determination, Lakshmi is associated with divine abundance and
prosperity. The Hindu tradition is not indifferent to the significance of
wealth and prosperity for our wellbeing and as a requirement for our
growth and development. In the absence of wealth, justly acquired and
distributed, power is tenuous and uncertain and we are likely to become
subject to the authoritarian rule of others. Poverty is a form of
powerlessness and power is meaningless without economic
The nine nights of Navaratri culminate with the worship of God as
Saraswati. If Durga represents divine power and Lakshmi, divine abundance,
Saraswati represents divine wisdom, the knowledge through which God
creates and sustains. In the Hindu worldview, knowledge is valued above
all else. The reason is because knowledge has the practical task of
finding a solution to the problem of human suffering. It is motivated by a
compassionate concern for overcoming human misery.
The worship of God as Saraswati reminds us that the pursuit of power and
wealth, as ends, is dangerous. These must be understood as means to the
nobler and higher end of liberating human beings from suffering. The
fruits of knowledge must be applied compassionately for the alleviation
of human misery. The highest knowledge is that which enables us to see
God in all and which awakens compassion in our hearts.
Navaratri, the festival of nine nights, underlines the necessity for a
proper balance, in our individual lives and in the life of our nation,
among the necessary goals of power, economic prosperity and wisdom. If
power and wealth must be inspired by compassion, knowledge must not be
disconnected from the real-life concerns of human beings for
self-determination and freedom from poverty.
In this balance is to be found true victory (Vijayadashami) and the key to
individual and national wellbeing. This balance brings illumination and
light (Diwali) to our lives and we can celebrate and rejoice by lighting
up our homes, villages, and cities. We can embrace each other in love,
exchange gifts and share meals. We can join in the famous prayer of the
Vedas for world peace.
Aum dyau Shanti/Antariksham Shanti
Prthivi Shanti/Apah Shanti
Oshadhayah Shanti/Vanaspatayah Shanti
Visvedevah Shanti/Brahma Shanti
Sarvam Shanti/Shantireva Shanti
Sama Shantiredhi/Aum Shanti Shanti Shanti
May there be peace in the skies and on earth
May there be peace in the waters and in the forests
May there be peace everywhere
And may that peace, true peace, be ours
On this auspicious occasion of Diwali, our prayers are with the Hindu
community and with our President George W. Bush and his family as he
begins a second term in office. In confronting the many challenges of our
time, may God bless him with the wisdom and strength to bring peace,
security and prosperity to our nation, and to all humanity. May God’s
guidance and protective presence be always with him and may God continue
to bless our nation, the United States of America.
Northfield, Minnesota 55057, USA
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