My earliest memories of my childhood are of waking up to “Bhakti Ranjani”, an All India Radio (AIR) programme of Carnatic (South Indian) devotional songs. The songs brought serenity to my day, and some tunes became the soundtrack for the day. Another endearing memory I have is the beautiful aroma of incense that emanated from our puja (prayer) room. My mother led a very busy life, always juggling her work as a teacher and her roles as a mother, a spouse, a daughter and a daughter-in-law. But there was one thing she would always do every morning, light a lamp in the puja room. I used to get a glimpse of that light from every corner of our house radiating hope and purpose.
Millions of families across the globe celebrated the Indian festival of lights, Diwali, last week. Memories of this festival bring a smile and radiance to my face as I reminisce the way we celebrated it back in India, when I was a child. The day started with a blessing ritual – my mother or grandmother would massage oil in our hair, while saying a long list of blessings! These blessings helped us forget all the admonitions we used to get for being naughty and also set some goals too. My mother would make fresh sweets and savories, and I used to hang around the kitchen to taste them first. To me, the best moment of Diwali every year was when my mother, draped in a beautiful new silk sari, brought out a tray full of “diyas” (earthen lamps). My sister and I used to decorate the entire house with those lamps. In the run-up to Diwali, our father used to take us to the shops to buy fireworks. With our daughters’ charm, we would always persuade him to buy more fireworks than he had budgeted for. We would burn fireworks with great enthusiasm for several days! However, more recently, I have started feeling uneasy at spending money to burn fireworks, which pollute the atmosphere. I have conflicting feelings – should I be spending this money on fireworks or should I donate the money towards a more worthy cause? My children have a different experience of Diwali. The weather in London is usually not very conducive for extensive fireworks, and neither can we put lamps outside. However, they have enjoyed buying and burning fireworks for many years. But slowly they have grown out of fireworks too although they still enjoy firework displays. They do appreciate the significance of Diwali and the message it conveys.
Light dispels darkness, it brings hope, and it rejuvenates. Festivals of light are a part of many religions and cultures, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. I always light a candle whenever I visit a church; it rekindles my belief that God, whoever we perceive Him to be, is a kind soul. There are rituals across all religions, which are unifying. We all aspire for the same fundamental things from life – a life filled with love and light.
My husband and I try to keep up the tradition of lighting a lamp at home. I hope it will make our boys think about “home” the same way as I still think about my childhood home – a serene and loving place full of light.