Deepawali, which literally means a row of lights, significantly falls on ‘amavasya’ — that is the darkest night of the ‘kirshan paksha’of the Kartik month. In order to dispel the darkness in its various connotations, darkness of unrighteousness, of evil, of ignorance, of sin, etc., the world enlightens itself into wisdom and knowledge by lighting the lamps. For the lamps symbolise the illumination of the mind.
There are two types of lights: the external light and the internal light. The external light removes the external darkness. But the internal light enlightens the consciousness, illuminates the mind. Thus the festival of lamps becomes symptomatic of “tamso ma jyotirgamye” (Lead, kindly light).
The popular belief that Deepawali is celebrated to extol the return of Rama to Ayodya after he put an end to the demon king Ravana, has yet another symbolic connotation. Ravana was a great scholar and yet the mind of this highly learned king was clouded by unrighteousness. And Rama was the embodiment of equity, integrity and morality. Though he conquered Lanka, he handed over the kingdom to Ravana’s brother, Vibhishan. Therefore, the festival of lights signifies the victory of light of knowledge over the darkness of ignorance, of righteousness over unrighteousness and of morality over immorality.
Scriptures have it that a lamp combines in itself Brahma, Vishnu and Mahesh. The earthen pot is like Brahma, the Creator, the originator, in which light is born. The oil is the preserver, like Lord Vishnu, which helps the wick glow with light. And Mahesh, the destroyer, destroys the darkness of injustice, inequity and unrighteousness. The lamp is again like a human body, made up of earth. Oil is like the breath, the soul. Without light, the lamp is nothing.
Further, the light emanating from a lamp connotes positive energy, while the darkness symbolises the negative energy.
Light always flows upward. Therefore, it teaches us discipline, and makes us look upward. The Bible postulates that “God is light,” for the light is the symbol of spiritual illumination. And Lord Krishna manifests light equal to 10,000 suns.
The Buddha too underlined the significance of light – ‘atmdeepo Bhav-’ be the lamp yourself.