Saturday, November 14, 2020

Deepawali: Inner experience and Symbolic traditions

Author: Mohan Raghavan

Respond to (

In this article we explore the deep symbolism and the inner experience behind the observances of Dhanatrayodashi / Dhanteras, Dhanvantari Jayanthi, Yama deepam (all observed on trayodashi). This may look like a random assortment of deities and some stories thrown in. However, from a Yogic and spiritual point of view, this imagery is highly coherent and flows directly from inner experience. 

First principles 

We have observed in the first part of this article that Bharatiya samskruthi views the aims of life as being twofold: Yoga - achieving inner yogic states of boundless joy and light. Secondly, Bhoga - enjoying material prosperity without jeopardising the pursuit of the former.  Sriranga Mahaguru illustrates this duality as the experience of the seed and the tree. The seed is the essence of the tree. In fact, it is the tree in entirety but in a subtle form. However for us to benefit from it, it must grow, flower and bloom into a tree that yields fruits. This duality is omnipresent in the imagery, symbolisms, similis, terminologies used in our culture. They are represented as Dyava-Prithvi, Divi-Bhuvi in the vedas, Purusha-Prakruthi in the shastras, agamas and tantra, Shiva-Shakti, Vishnu-Lakshmi in Puranic literature. The devout refer to them as the divine parents. These are not just symbolisms but, the representations of inner truths and experiences. Shiva is depicted as a tapasvi who is always absorbed within. Vishnu reclines on his serpent bed immersed within himself in Yoganidra. Lakshmi and Parvati are goddesses who bestow wealth, education, prosperity. All the devatas who perform various functions do so by the grace and power of this divine couple. Surya verily is the brightness and effulgence of the supreme light. Metaphorically his son is Yama, a manifestation of Dharma - that allows people to lead material lives without destroying the bridge connecting the inward effulgent light - Surya. Yama dharma with the danda in his hand is responsible for bestowing the fruits of our karma - paapa and punya. Sriranga Mahaguru identifies this danda as our meru danda or backbone - the house of yogic nadis or paths. Thus it may verily be said that Yama dispenses the fruits of karma, dispatching us to Naraka or Svarga. In order to lead a life of Dharma, we need a healthy body, senses that are in control and a mind immersed in Yoga from time to time.  One needs to be free of Vyaadhi (disease) and Adhi (mental affliction) and Dhanvantari is the divine physician who bestows on us these benefits. Asuras are the embodiment of adharma and forces that impel us towards paapa karma, while the Devas push us towards punya karma. While punya karma results from good actions like kindness, charity and the like it still keeps us bound to the cycle of karma and its fruits. In order for us to achieve Moksha we need to take the middle Yogic path - that is neither Punya nor Paapa, that leads directly to liberation or Moksha. 

With these principles in mind, we will look at some of the stories that underlie the Deepawali festivities. 

Samudra Manthana - Emergence of Lakshmi and Dhanvantari

The story of the churning of the ocean is a celebrated one and replete with inner Yogic experiences. Sriranga Mahaguru has described this story of the Puranas along with the inner experience on which this story is based. In our life, we are torn between Punya karmas and Paapa karmas represented by Devas and Asuras who churn the ocean of life. The churning rod, Mount Mandara is none other than our backbone or meru danda. While the two ends of the rope that churn, exert and move, the rod itself appears to be stationary, just rotating around itself in its place. This represents the Yogic journey inwards, distinct from the punya and paapa. Kurma as MahaVishnu represents control of our senses, just as the tortoise can draw itself inwards at will. It is only after Kurma supports the churning rod that the real process of churning or Yogic ascent starts. The first to emerge is the toxic poison Haalahala, which Lord Shiva drinks. Subsequently emerge a variety of riches which include most notably the divine cow Surabhi, the horse Ucchaisravas and the elephant Airavata. These three animals, especially the cow, are regarded as the epitome of Artha and Kama that is agreeable to Dharma. The cow gives us milk, ghee, butter and other rich foods that nourish us, serve as a source of income and are essential items for performance of a Yagnya. It's very presence infuses in us a condition most suitable for penance. Panchagavya - combination of five cow products is highly regarded by Yogis as being able to nullify the effect of past paapa karmas. Continuing the story of sagara manthana, the stream of riches culminates in the emergence of goddess Shri or Lakshmi who is verily the epitome of all the riches, plenty and bounty in this world. On emerging, she is united with the Lord Hari, thereby indicating that the worldly riches must always go hand in hand with the inner Yogic bliss represented by Lord Hari. When material riches and the urge to acquire them are divorced from or become an impediment to inner progress, it goes by the name Alakshmi or the opposite of Lakshmi. Alakshmi can only lead to misery and bondage. The churning process finally culminates in the emergence of the nectar of immortality - verily the culminating bliss of Samadhi. The story says that Lord Dhanvantari emerged holding in his hands the jar containing the nectar or amruta. This joy lingers on and acts through all our senses as well when such a realized one moves around this world performing his karmas. Thereby this nectar is capable of bestowing freedom from both Vyadhi (disease) and Adhi (mental or spiritual obstacles). 

Observances of trayodashi

One can now clearly see the reflections of these principles in the customs  and traditions of trayodashi. Well before this day, we clean up our houses, throwing out our junk - a representation of Alakshmi. These are also the tendencies leading us to paapa and naraka. The biggest antidote to our evil tendencies is the sight of the Deepa. Sriranga Mahaguru dwelt at length on the specific effects of the varieties of deepas and demonstrated their effects on onlookers. The golden flame, the shape of the flame all remind us of our true goal. A flame that burns upwards, still and steady is verily an external recreation of the internal adhyaatma deepa. It is the perfect antidote to paapa and Naraka. Thus the practice of offering deepa to YamaDharma with the following shloka

मृत्युना पाशदण्डाभ्याम कालेन श्यामया सह |

त्रयोदश्यां दीपदानात् सूर्यज: प्रीयतां मम ||   

Once our old junk of alakshmi is thrown out, the spectre of mrtyu or death is overcome by deepadanam and the lord Dharma himself is propitiated, our lives are enriched with dharma. A natural consequence of this is the emergence of goddess Lakshmi herself.  Thus this day we exert ourselves in acquiring wealth and riches, but with a dharmic frame of mind. Cow - the harmonious confluence of material possessions and Dharma is worshipped as part of the go-triratra vrata starting from the trayodashi. Further on is the nectar of immortality and the Lord Dhanvantari himself bestows on us immortality by way of both physical health and by removing spiritual obstacles. In Karnataka, the evening of trayodashi is celebrated as 'Neeru Tumbuva habba', a festival where water is filled in pitchers or traditional boilers after cleaning them well. This is in essence the same as cleaning out the old dirt of alakshmi and filling it up with the sacred essence - epitomised by Ganga.