Do you know the people around you? Do you know what they believe? Do you know how it affects them, and why? ...

Diwali: The Festival of Lights

There are many legends... the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) is incarnated; Lord Vishnu as Vaman-avtaara rescues Lakshmi from King Bali's prison; Lord Krishna kills the demon-king Narakaasur; the Pandavas return from banishment; Lord Ram, Ma Sita, and Lakshman return to Ayodhya... stories are in abundance. But my neighbor tells me only one, so perhaps that is the one I should tell. (note: this is the best I understand the story, forgive me if I get some of the details wrong)

In Kosala (now northern India) many millennia ago, King Dasaratha ruled in the capital city of Ayodhya. (yes, your tongue will need some therapy after this blog to get untwisted) King Dasaratha was good and wise, and the country was prosperous and at peace. The king had three queens: Kaushalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra, but no children. The royal family held a sacrifice, and begged the gods for children-- four sons were soon born.

Kaushalya's son was the firstborn, Ram. Bharat was Kaikeyi's son, and Sumitra had twins: Lakshman and Shatrughn.

Our story skips forward to the marriages of all the sons: Ram won the hand of the princess Sita, daughter of Janak, ruler of Videha. To do so, he strung and broke the bow of Shiv, which no other man could do. Lakshman married Sita's sister, Urmila; and Bharat and Shatrughn married Sita's cousins: Mandavi and Shrutakirti.

Tongue-twisting names now for the most part taken care of, the princes and their wives lived in Ayodhya with King Dasaratha and his three queens. The king was growing old, however, and decided to appoint his eldest son, Ram, as regent.

Kaikeyi (mother of Bharat) was convinced by her evil maid, Manthara, that as soon as Ram became king, he would become jealous and would remove her as queen and kill her son. She panicked, and decided to take drastic action. Many years ago she had saved the king's life, and he had promised to grant her two wishes. She decided it was now time to use a wish. She requested that the king send Ram into 14 years of exile in the jungle. The king was broken-hearted, but he could not recall his promise, so Ram was exiled. With him went his wife, Sita, and his younger brother, Lakshman.

When Bharat learned what his mother had done to his half-brother, he was furious. He ran after Ram, and begged him to return, but Ram insisted on honouring his father's promise. Bharat returned to the city, but refused to be king. King Dasaratha died, however, and someone had to rule the kingdom. Bharat consented to rule Ayodhya in Ram's name, but would not sit on the throne. Instead, he placed there a pair of Ram's shoes, to remind the people that Ram was the true king.

Ram, his wife, and his brother lived in the forest for many years. They faced many trials, fought with demons... at one point, Ram's wife, Sita, was kidnapped by a demon named Ravan. Ram and Lakshman had to find her. All the animals in the forest helped them, as well as Ravan's brother, who disapproved of what Ravan had done. Together, they assaulted the castle where she was held prisoner. Ram and Ravan fought for ten days, until Ram shot Ravan with a special arrow given to him by the gods and succeeded in killing him.

Finally, the 14 years of exile were over. Hanuman the monkey (who was also the son of the Wind, with power to fly) preceded the trio to the city, announcing that Ram, Sita, and Lakshman were returning. The city of Ayodhya was decorated with lamps and flowers, and when Ram arrived, he was crowned king. He ruled long and well, and many thousands of years later, his coronation is remembered and celebrated as the Hindu festival of Diwali.

Outside, the fireworks are bursting; I can hear them. My neighbors are getting ready for the prayer tonight. People are shouting, and laughing at the fireworks.

"Father, it is my desire to love You, the Lord my God, with all my heart, and with all my mind, and with all my soul.... and to love my neighbor as myself."

(right: my neighbor)

No comments:

Post a Comment