You may find it odd, my writing about Diwali while being an atheist, the only one in the family. The last time we spent Diwali together was in 1999 when you were just 18, and I was still a theist. You spent the next two Diwali away from home in your hostel in Manipal, all subsequent ones have been in the US.
There are many stories and myths surrounding the celebration of this festival. Essentially, it symbolises the worship of power in the form of wealth. Hindu traditions are steeped in symbology. We worship power in five major forms – as Learning & Knowledge, as Wealth, as Political Power, as Physical Power, and as Attractive Personality. The “mother”symbols are as goddesses Saraswati, Lakshmi, Durga, Kali and Parvati.
Have you wondered why all symbols of power are “mother”? I had this question, and the search for an answer took me to a highly educated monk of the Ramakrishna Mission, the only Hindu religious order that I had respect for those days. The monk in question was a qualified doctor of medicine, and he spent many years in the mission’s coaching centre in Mayawati in Kumaon before becoming one.
His answer has stayed with me. He said, of all relatives, Mother is the easiest to please. Even if you commit a wrong and tell your mom about it, her first instinct is to protect you. Using mother as the metaphor for power is saying that power is easy to get. When we symbolically pray to the concerned Shakti, it is not to acquire it, for we can acquire that secularly. The prayer is to seek that power does not swell our head and make us into a brute, that we retain strength of mind and character to use it wisely to uplift as many others as we can.
History is full of examples on how power made those who had it into brutes. Intellectual arrogant. Businessmen who hoarded food during famines. Brutal kings, queens and dictators, including those who destroyed the civilization of vanquished territories. Con-men. And history is full of examples of noble men and women who used their power for the good of humankind. The latter were the true worshippers of power.
We in India have festivals celebrating each of these mothers. Rulers tend to worship Durga, intellectuals Saraswati, while most merchants worship Saraswati. Rulers also tend to worship Shiva. From Ram at Rameshwaram to Scindia in Gwalior to the Nepal king in Pashupatinath. That will be another post.
Have a great Diwali son. May God Bless You.
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