What "Diwali" as a Festival of Light means for me (in 2022)
Updated: Feb 7
I grew up in a Hindu Gujarati family in West London. My mother introduced her three young children to the ways of “Diwali”, and I followed the same ways of celebrating the occasion every year for four decades.
I remember gifting Indian sweets in decorative boxes to many relatives, dressing up in shiny sarees, being gifted cash from family members, lighting fireworks in the garden, and visiting large temples for worship of various artistic forms depicting ancient Indian gods and goddesses. It was a very colourful, social, and happy time. What has stayed with me, is the feeling of peace taking in the sight of the ghee candles dancing in the Autumn light, and the scent of sandalwood incense rising up like a serpent.
To accompany the Diwali season, the story of Rama, Sita and Ravana had been preserved over the centuries. I had encountered the story in many different ways - as picture books, school plays, temple sermons, and movies. I felt happy when King Rama with his monkey friends rescued Queen Sita from the ten-headed demon king Ravana. Their return to the kingdom was marked by the lighting of many lights, and as a girl who took in many Disney and Bollywood movies, I longed for the ‘fairytale’.
As the 80’s turned to the 90’s and my sense of self developed, I began to ask questions of why Hindu families did certain rituals for “Diwali”. Often adults would reply with, “It’s to celebrate God”, or “It’s tradition” or “It’s in the book”, I would then ask, “who decided on what was ‘traditional’ and “what’s modern?”, “Are we still doing it right, and how do we know?”, “How have the rituals changed, or should they change?… we change”, and “who wrote the books anyway?”. Adults would give many answers based on what they had received from their parenting and education; responses that somehow did not satisfy me. Over the years, I unconsciously probed people, social groups, books, and the internet for information. I didn’t know at the time, that my search would lead me to someone/something that I still struggle to describe in words sometimes.
I must have wondered rather deeply how different religious and spiritual pathways, and social groups explored rituals and festival, and how they celebrated the return of the ‘light’. Thanks to my training in Transpersonal Art Therapy, I was able to meet a new way of exploring Nature’s annual seasonal festivals, as a way towards a holistic illumination.
Thanks to Biographical Counselling, I realised that I was always looking for Love, and I had to know what it was not, to be able to raise the questions and steadily come to discern where it was always present. I was looking for a light that was stable, honest and truthful with me; that I could be totally truthful with - one that would participate in my life, no matter what I was working to resolve in myself. I was looking for a light that could be more friend to me than I could be to myself, until I learned to trust its presence within and around me. I was looking for a light where I could come to my own truths, in total freedom. I had been looking for a light that could bridge the ancient ways to what is being invited of me now, and what I would like to bring for others?
So when love found me, I was frightened; I felt unworthy of it having lived the way I had lived; I worked hard to push it away. I now see it as 'holy fear', and a vital part of the process of awakening towards individuality, altruism, and freedom.
As I steadily learned to bear and endure through many crises of the soul, I realised that this was what I was experiencing as 'mental health' challenges and physical ailments.
By allowing myself to be with the unknown and unfamiliar places, meant working to set down my intellect at times so that intuition could take up space.
Using specific transpersonal arts processes, I began to realise that illnesses and imbalances are gifts of awakening to deeper feelings that can clarify human thinking. As new awareness increased in me over time, I steadily came to my own knowing around “Diwali". Experiences invited me to discern the similarities of archetypal pictures across many religious and spiritual views of the Light, both from the Sun and from the Moon (within and around us).
Today, having taken the last 6 years years away from celebrating "Diwali", to look at my soul and its content using Anthroposophical tools, I appreciate the gift of my sensitivities to recognise authenticity.
I feel ready to embrace Diwali in a way that makes sense to me, as an archetypal story of inner transformation, relevant for human evolution now, held within the whole wider cycle of divine world aims, and not as an out-of-time relic of the past.
An understanding of human development including the soul-spiritual aspects, is vital if we are to meet the crises of this time.
For this years seasonal festival honouring the redemption of the Light, I wish to acknowledge the first light. In 2020/2021, as painful as it was to bear his descent from a long time ago, His presence was always of peace and calm. Through the chaos around Him, and despite the fear in me, He came like a long-lost friend, through still and moving pictures from His lifetime as a human being.
Today I feel deeply grateful to have found my way towards understanding, reverence and humility, towards not only the ancient Indian gods and goddesses, but all forms across the later epochs of time. Meeting some them in the context of world evolution beyond my little lifetime, whether through dreams or encounters in my artwork, has been both challenging and rewarding.
I thank Rudolf Steiner whose gifts of spiritual insight, helped me to put my life story, my soul pictures, and my experiential unfolding into context, for what feels health-giving for the current time, and includes the original light of Life.
Through living Anthroposophy, I consciously work to build a bridge with what I feel moved towards or away by. Sometimes, it evokes a memory or an impulse in me to take action towards something and I do not know why. I can look back and then begin to understand what had to happen and how I am where I am now.
I also embrace flexibility across threefoldness, which helps me to digest inherited thinking around temporal Identity structures.
Steadily, I strive to accept the Wisdom, whose symbolic form is woman. It is Wisdom who lives and radiates in the light. This is the 'fairytale' that I am working towards, that I experience as a truly authentic relationship that individuates and unites - as the Christ-Sophia.
Practically, I do not miss the sugary Indian sweets, the dressing up in scratchy sarees, nor visiting temples that I experience as too materialistic for what is required now.
I sit with the feeling of peace in the company of my buttery homemade ghee candles dancing in the darkness, and the scent of Indian sandalwood incense as I practice form drawing patterns for health (the original science of Diwali rangoli artistry).
This re-ordering of feeling (astral body) is the 'home' I had been searching for, and it was within me all along.
Happy Diwali all, and thank you for reflecting my light to me over the years.
A question for some artistic and contemplative inner reflection?
How can I learn to engage the courageous and honourable part of my self, to gather its helpers and resources, to rescue our ancient wisdom, and bring her back to claim her earthly throne beside me in the kingdom of all Life across time and space?