Diwali: The Gold Standard of a Festival

The Festival of Light: In the presence of light, darkness always vanishes

By Prof. Bal Ram Singh

We Indians celebrate many festivals of India in the United States, but nothing matches the Diwali festival. Most Indian festivals have seasonal flavors and are around harvest seasons. India’s climate is the most benevolent on this earth, hosting six seasons, with generally at least three crops a year. This provides a perfect backdrop for many seasonal and harvest-inspired festivals.

In the United States, and also in Europe, the season is generally divided into winter and non-winter, although the non-winter season is called spring and fall, which is equivalent to sowing/planting and harvesting. Thus, the fall season is a traditional time of harvest and festival, which matches perfectly with the Diwali season in India.

Most societies have festivals of one kind or the other, but India remains the undisputed superpower of festivals. Some of these festivals cycle over 144 years, such as the Kumbh Mela of the year 2000 which attracted an estimated 100 million people over a one-month period.

Among the festivals, Diwali has assumed a major international dimension for a variety of reasons, including its similarity with Christmas lights and exchange of gifts, and perhaps also due to its significance to the Indian business community.

In India, Diwali celebrations traditionally are carried out in individual households, but together by the entire community in villages, towns, cities, in fact, the entire country. However, in the United States, the Indian community generally celebrates it together, as a community, although individual households may perform their Diwali puja individually. Some among the Indian diaspora actually put up their lights at Diwali and keep them through Christmas till Makar Sankranti in January.

Diwali, not a holiday in the U.S., is generally celebrated during the weekend, and the celebrations are held in college campuses, temples, school auditoria, and at times in Church halls on a rental basis. Aside from some stage lights and lighting lamps – if allowed in the hall from a safety point of view, the community Diwali celebrations mostly involve songs, dances, and drama, mostly for entertainment, along with a sumptuous meal. Kids skits and some speeches on good and evil are included for educational purposes for children, and for the local American families who are excited to join as friends.

Amongst many ancient stories for celebrating Diwali, a common theme that emerges relates to the victory of good over evil. The strings of diyas, referred to as Diwali, represent overcoming the darkness of ignorance with the light of wisdom.

There is an intricate relationship between light and darkness whereby the existence of one actually depends on the other. Nevertheless, it is the light that is mostly cited for good things. For example, Albert Einstein used the speed of light as the reference point for developing his theory of relativity even though darkness travels at exactly the same speed. In fact, darkness is more prevalent than light on the earth.

Furthermore, whereas light needs the effort to bring out, darkness comes effortlessly. The most contrasting aspect of light and dark is that whereas the presence of darkness can never kill the light, in the presence of light, darkness always vanishes. The victory of good over evil is celebrated with light in the night because it represents that eternal truth.

The living civilization of India for millennia is a milestone always cited to represent the practice of truth in various aspects of Indian life, as was propounded by the Buddhist emperor Ashok Maurya in his edicts of “Satyameva Jayate” carved around 262 BC. The same “Satyameva Jayate” adorns the Indian national emblem today, but alas, there is a lesser practice of it. Perhaps the time has changed, and the degradation of values has begun where the darkness is taking over with its speed and vastness.

Diwali is a major occasion traditionally for India’s business community, for a variety of reasons, including the beginning of the new fiscal year, and the sale of gold during the Diwali festival. Actually, buying some metal item, if not gold, is a tradition all over India.

The traditional five-day Diwali celebration begins on Dhanteras – the 13th day of dark night or Krishna paksha, which is the day to buy gold. Dhan of Dhanteras is used to mean wealth. However, in reality, the word Dhanteras is used for the appearance of Lord Dhanvantari, who is the originator of Ayurveda for health. Of course, health is the best wealth, but it has been utilized to make a business of material wealth.

By all accounts, India has remained a prosperous nation throughout history, attracting numerous foreign invasions from Alexander, Arabs, and Turks, to the British East India Company, largely due to India’s business community or the vaishya varna.

The businessman was traditionally referred to as Mahajana or a great person, as they valued gold as the basis of wealth. Women, as this tradition still continues at least in rural India, for people who have yet to be educated in the art of the stock market or brokerage. Interestingly, the word for those practicing the latter is Dalal, a term which still harbors a less than reputable connotation, although many people do not actually know that the MBA degree-waving crowd is in fact nothing but an Anglicized version of dalals.

While many such Dalal intellectuals deride the household holding of gold mostly as pieces of jewelry – according to a 2019 report in Financial Times, it was worth $1.14 trillion, over 40 percent of India’s GDP, gold is not just a means of money, but in Indian tradition, it is a standard of purity and almost a yogic non-reactivity or nobility.

India is the king of gold, it imports nearly 900 tons of gold annually, and it doesn’t go unnoticed even by US scientific companies like ThermoFisher Scientific, which put out an article entitled, “Diwali: The Festival of Lights and Sparkling Gold” on its blog exhorting people to buy its equipment and services for ensuring the purity.

Indian families in the US also are in heavy buying gold, although the grip of pure gold is a bit loosening. 24 karat or 22 for jewelry is now the standard. While business experts would perhaps like the money for their stock and bond, instead of gold, but no one likes to be stocked or bonded, no one likes to be broke, but gold standards are available as standards in every field, each walk of life, and in every era or yuga.

Happy Diwali – The Festival of Light and Sparkling Gold!

The writer is a Professor and the President of the Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, researching Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic education, and Vedic social and political traditions. He is also adjunct faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.


Disclaimer: The views expressed are not necessarily those of The South Asian Times 

Images courtesy of (Image: Asia Society), (Image: ShareAmerica), (Image: Latestly) and Provided

Share this post