This Deepavali, I would like to suggest that Malaysians look at two important aspects of themselves and their lives.
Although both derive from Deepavali rituals and the message of Deepavali, they are universally applicable. The cultural reference may be Hindu but the message is universal and therefore I don’t think anyone would have a problem with it.
The first is very common, the message of light. Most Malaysians, I believe, are aware that Deepavali means “A row of lights” and that it celebrates all the qualities and goodness that light symbolises.
This includes light as knowledge. Those who celebrate Deepavali or watch their Hindu friends celebrate the festival should think about the importance of knowledge in our lives.
The more knowledge we have, the better decisions we can make whether it is in the area of business or education or career or whatever.
In multiracial and multireligious Malaysia, it becomes imperative that we have some basic knowledge of each other’s cultures and religions. If we understand another religion, we are less likely to seek a quarrel with people of that religion.
I believe there will be more give-and-take if Malaysians try to understand each other’s cultures and religions. I believe many of the problems and quarrels that we are now witnessing in Malaysia between people of various religions is due to ignorance and ego-driven stubbornness.
We should embrace the light this Deepavali; and that means moving away from ignorance and stubbornness and moving towards knowledge and understanding and tolerance.
Light also signifies joy. It would be great if Malaysians of all religions resolved to be joyous and spread joy.
People who lack joy in their lives are usually morose, belligerent and insecure. Those who have joy in their hearts are always positive and caring. Let us reflect on this.
This is how the Deepavali lights are lighted up: The celebrant lights the cotton wick on one of the clay oil lamps (known as “agal vilakku” or “diya”) and then he uses this lighted wick to light up all the other lamps in the house.
This is the significance: Even one person can make a difference. If you and I do something to improve our knowledge, if you and I can spread some joy, it will add to the knowledge and joy in the world.
If many people decide to remove their ignorance or their ego-driven stubbornness or their suspiciousness or their belligerence, then this world will be so much more joyous.
If many people decide they are going to embrace the light and spread joy instead of being negative, imagine how much more pleasant life would be for everyone.
The second message that I want to talk about is the need for cleaning and cleansing ourselves and our surroundings.
In preparing to celebrate Deepavali, the celebrant cleans up his house and his surroundings. Old and unwanted things are thrown away. On Deepavali morning he takes a bath and then dons new clothes. In other words, a new – and better – person is to be born on Deepavali day.
So, let us throw away the unwanted and clean our houses and our minds of dust and waste and negative attitudes.
By cleaning our houses and surroundings, we can help keep away disease and disease-bearing insects such as mosquitoes. It is more pleasant to live in a clean and neat house, as everyone knows.
By cleaning our minds of negative attitudes and suspicions and enmity and laziness, we become better persons and life becomes brighter. Let us be rid of egoistic beliefs and negative attitudes, let us forget and forgive.
When a Hindu sees another Hindu on Deepavali day he asks: “Ganga snanam seithuviteergela? (Have you bathed in the Ganges?).
Of course only those who live along the River Ganges in India, or are there on Deepavali day, can take a dip in the river that is considered the most holy of all rivers by Hindus.
The greeting is symbolic – as is almost every ritual in Hinduism. An early morning oil bath on Deepavali day is equated with bathing in the holiest of rivers because bathing in the River Ganges is believed to remove one’s impurities.
So when a celebrant asks another if he has bathed in the Ganges River, both he and the person being greeted are reminded to remove internal and external impurities and become pure in body and mind.
If more people in the world listen to the Deepavali message and light up lamps of wisdom and understanding and tolerance and joy, this will be a better world.
Let’s all embrace the light this Deepavali. Happy Deepavali to all. Ganga snanam seithuviteergela?