For me, one of the best things about being in India during Diwali – or any Indian festival for that matter – is that it gives me hope, that all is not yet lost, that there is something precious that we have, that we will still endure even though it may look quite hopeless.
Like many of the recent Diwalis, I spent this one at the Ladsariyas in Mumbai. Diwali here is the most auspicious occasion when Lakshmi Devi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity is worshipped. On Tuesday night, I arrived from Kolkata just in time for the “choti puja” at home. Choti or minor puja because it heralds the main puja the next day.
Grandfather and grandmother Ladsariya presided and three generations gathered in the living room to welcome Lakshmi and thank her for all the good things she has blessed us all with. Yesterday, Wednesday, was the main Diwali, and the “badi puja” was held with greater solemnity and joy.
In Marwari households like this one – and in many North Indian households in general – Diwali means the worship of Devi Lakshmi. For Bengalis, in contrast, the main emphasis during Diwali is on the worship of Ma Kali. Kali is the fierce form of Durga, or Shakti. Ma Durga is worshipped during “Durga Puja” (which Bengalis refer to simply as “pujo”) which happens just a few weeks before Diwali.
Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, and Kali epitomizes that battle between the forces of creation and the forces of destruction. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kali for more.) I find it particularly interesting that Diwali is associated both with Kali and with Lakshmi. Both are manifestations of Shakti, the primary power motivating the universe. Working hard to create wealth is the worship of Lakshmi. Fighting evil and defeating it is the worship of Kali.
I believe that Indians by and large have neglected what Diwali means. We have to confront evil and destroy it because otherwise we will not have the opportunity to create wealth. We have to worship Kali and Lakshmi.
Happy Diwali and a happy new year!