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As I grew up, my appreciation of Deepavali deepened. I understood the significance of rejoicing in Lord Rama’s return to his home in Ayodhya after defeating the evil Ravana, the beauty of welcoming Goddess Lakshmi into our homes and seeking her blessings at the beginning of a fresh new year. I also developed reverence for the festival. For me, it is a time to celebrate our inner goodness and illuminate the dark spots in our minds, to invoke blessings of the gods and goddesses, and to be grateful for the gift of family, friends, and neighbors.
As Deepavali draws near, there is a palpable excitement, almost like electricity, that suffuses the air. There is a pleasant hustle-bustle of planning, cleaning and cooking. Weeks before Deepavali my parents, sister, and I come together for a special meeting to plan all that needs to be done for the festival. We make a list of the special sweet and savory treats that will be prepared. Then, before our taste buds start to water too much, my mother prepares a chart of the cleaning that needs to be done to the inside and outside of our home.
When I was a child, the cleaning was never my favorite part. But I remember thinking, when Lakshmi arrives, I want our home to look as perfect and welcoming as possible so that she will want to stay with us! With that spirit, I grew to enjoy the ritual cleaning process. And remarkably, even today, as I clean our home, my excitement for the festival grows, along with the love in my heart, and our home begins to look and feel brighter. With every swoosh of my broom, I think of Baba Muktananda’s teaching, “Take a broom and sweep your heart.” For me, that is the essence of cleaning before Deepavali, for as I clean externally, I know I am cleaning my mind so that the light of the Self may shine brighter.
Then, we begin the cooking! In the last few days leading up to Deepavali, my mother, sister, and I cook endlessly, making enough sweets—ladoos, barfi—and savory snacks to feed a village! Together, we take turns verifying recipes, measuring and mixing ingredients, stirring pots, and fussing over each delicacy in hopes to make it as perfect as possible. Simultaneously, we share stories, we laugh, we sing, and we infuse each dish with our love, devotion, and good wishes. By the end of the three or four days of cooking, our kitchen overflows with tray upon tray of treats piled as high as possible. It is a feast for the eyes as well!
When at last Deepavali arrives, we decorate our home with festive lights, flowers, and colorful rangolis. We cook an elaborate banquet, full of sumptuous dishes that we often have waited all year to eat! As the evening approaches, we don new clothes, gold jewelry, and apply sweet-smelling Jasmine oil before setting up our puja, our altar. Deities on the altar always include Lord Ganesh, Mahalakshmi, and of course, pictures of our dearest Gurumayi, Baba, and Bade Baba. To honor these divine beings and deities, we place before them fresh flowers, candles, incense, and an offering of the treats we have made.
My favorite Deepavali tradition is a Maharashtrian one that we adopted from my dearest auntie: a Lakshmi made entirely of rice on a silver tray. We create a beautiful silhouette of Shri Lakshmi, complete with cardamom seed eyes, a clove nose, and saffron smile. We then adorn her with gold jewelry and coins and flowers, before welcoming her on our altar. As our family gathers for puja, we each take turns offering water, kumkum, and rice to each photo and idol on our altar, before waving the arati tray. We sing the Shri Mahalakshmyashtakam Stotram three times. Then together as a family, before the altar, we light diyas (little lights) and candles which we place all around the house, in every room, as well as outside our home. When I was young, my mother used to tell me that the lights would help Lakshmi find our home.
After puja, we make multiple trays full of our homemade treats, each beautifully wrapped and customized for a specific home. Next, we distribute the treats to our near and dear ones, exchanging wishes and greetings like Shubh Deepavali (an auspicious Deepavali) and Naya saal mubarak (Happy New Year). Once home, in our backyard, we light sparklers and firecrackers. It’s a loud, magical celebration of explosive lights, cheering, and laughter, and in those moments, there is no shadow of a doubt that light has prevailed over darkness. There is nothing but happiness. Finally, we feast! It’s a special meal, not just because of the food but because there is the peace and contentment of a festival well-savored and celebrated.
The exact celebration of Deepavali varies abundantly all across India and the world. The specific foods, rituals, and traditions may differ, but ultimately, Deepavali is a celebration of goodness, kindness, and love. We wish everyone Shubh Deepavali, whether in person, over the phone, or the internet. We forgive one another and offer prayers and blessings for all of humanity. We honor the light within by spreading light all around. Above all, we express our gratitude to God, the Guru, and one another. In this album, you’ll see beautiful images from around India, Shree Muktananda Ashram, and all around the world, each of which offers a perfect glimpse of the abundance and beauty of Deepavali.
On behalf of my family, I wish you and yours a most auspicious, joyful, abundant, and shimmering Deepavali. May our collective light permeate every beat of our hearts and every corner of this universe.
New York, United States
Virginia, United States