There are many festivals in Indian culture. Most festivals celebrate Gods & Goddesses who are also the symbolic representations of the higher self. Behind all the festivities and glitter, these festivals are here to remind us of inner values, good morals, togetherness in the form of stories, rituals and celebration.
Diwali is one of the most loved and popular festival, where everyone rejoices the victory of Good over Evil. As we enjoy the festive food, gatherings, decorations & togetherness, the festive rituals guides us through out the month to strengthen our inner qualities and prepare us to welcome the arrival of the God.
Symbolism has been an intergral part of Hinduism. Gods and Godesses, who are regarded as higher principals of the supreme universe are reflected in personal forms and symbolism; wherein each diety has a different symbol, a different form, such as, a mandala, a yantra, a color or even a sound (mantra). These different symbols reach different depths of the mind which invoke deep responses in different areas in a human mind.
We begin this journey of divinity with the invocation of the Goddess ( the superpowers within us ). The different Goddesses represent different mental states and helps us to overcome a particular type of obstacle and develop positive qualities in our nature during the 9 nights - Navratre. The negative qualities are represented as the various demons that Goddess helps us to slay.
Dussehra, the day when Goddess Durga defeated Mahishasura after a fierce battle lasting for more than nine days, the day which also marks the victory of Rama over ten-headed demon king of Lanka, Ravana, symbolises the spiritual journey of any spiritual seeker, from ignorance (avidya) to Self-realization (Vidya).
Once we have attained the inner Strength of Durga, Alertness of Lakshmi and Wisdom of Saraswati then only we can win over the Asura ( greed, jealousy, anger, attachment, etc) and celebrate the Festival of Lights ( inner purity/light ) - Diwali.
As we talk about the hidden meaning behind the Gods & Goddesses, it is much relevant to acknowledge and observe the animals who accompany them as their vehicles. Just like as we have transport to travel in the physical reality, the characteristics of these animals helps us to travel into the spiritual realm. Goddess Durga who is worshipped on the first three days of the Navratri, rides a Lion. Goddess Lakshmi who is worshipped on days 4 to 6, rides an Owl, and Goddess Saraswati who is worshipped on days 7 through 9, rides a Royal swan (RajHamsa).
Goddess Durga represents a fierce will to penetrate the veil of Maya or cosmic delusion due to which we fail to realize our true Self. Her vehicle - lion represents the qualities of fierce determination, courage and independent will and all these qualities are required to overcome our inner evil qualities that prevent us from developing greater Self-awareness. It is not very easy to overcome deep rooted psychological tendencies like anger, jealousy, greed, pride that enslave us to a deeply egotistic world view. Goddess Durga and her lion represent this tremendous effort that is necessary at this phase of our sadhana (spiritual journey) to overcome the darkness.
Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped in the second phase of our sadhana so to attain her blessings and develop the wealth of a divine character. Lakshmi, the Goddess of prosperity, rides on an Owl who is considered a wise animal or a pictorial representation of a wise person. An Owl has focused eyes and he is always alert. Owls are awake when others are asleep. He silently observes everything in his surroundings and remain quiet mostly and speak only in times of danger. Owls are vigilant and alert, which are the qualities needed to attract any form of abundance. Goddess Lakshmi sitting on an Owl means A person who is alert, observant of every happening in his surroundings, quick, silent in his workings , ready to work when others are not working and is wise enough to carry the wealth and prosperity and bring Goddess Lakshmi to his home.
In the last phase of our sadhana, Goddess Saraswati is worshipped. She represents Atmavidya or Self-realization. Her vehicle is the royal swan who is known for its ability to separate milk from water no matter how thoroughly the water is mixed with milk. The swan represents critical thinking and discrimination which are the vehicles for knowledge.
The unconscious mind has massive amount of information stored symbolically. Our human mind do not have direct access to that matter as we are not in tune with it naturally. That is why Symbols have been used from ancient times to invoke material from the unconscious to bridge the gap in between the waking state and the unconscious.
This ability takes one into deeper communion with God. With dedicated meditation and daily rituals, One reaches the state of complete oneness with his true Self or the Atman. This merger of unconscious and conscious is celebrated as the Vijayadashmi, where all the inner demons have now been completely conquered.
I believe that all the festivals are a reminder to practice the divinity within and strengthen inner qualities. This article is my attempt to see the formless behind the form, the Brahman behind the God, the hidden meaning behind the festival.
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This Diwali, may we see see divinity everywhere - in God and it's every Creation.
Lord Shiva, also known as Pashupati - Lord of the Animals.
Further Reading references -
Yoga Nidra - Swami Satyananda Saraswati
Man and his Symbols, Carl Jung
Inner Tantric Yoga - Dr. David Frawley