Most epics and myths have a subtext that encourages people to look within.
Sabhi ke deep sundar hain hamare
kya tumhare kya
Ujala har taraf hai is kinare us kinare kya
Gagan ki jagmagahat pad gayi hai
aaj maddham kyun
Munderon aur chhajjon par utar aaye
hain taare kya
Hazaron saal guzre phir bhi jab aati hai Diwali
Mahal ho chahe kutiya sab pe chha jaati
(Everyone’s clay lamps are beautiful, mine as well as yours
There is light everywhere, in my home and yours
Why has the light of the heavens dimmed today?
Have stars descended upon the ledges and eaves of homes?
Thousands of years have passed since the first Diwali
And still every dwelling lights up on Diwali)
This paragraph is from a longer nazm on the glories of a Diwali in Banaras, composed by the Urdu poet Nazeer Banarasi (1909-1996). It provides an insight into a gentler time when Diwali was a festival of light and revelry that transcended religiosity, rather than one of noise and conspicuous consumption it seems to have become in recent times.
Seeing the pomp and show of the festival’s contemporary avatar, one might wonder at millennials celebrating the return of a prince after a long exile recorded in an ancient epic. Obviously, the festival, and consequently the return of Ram after 14 years in exile, has come to mean so much more. The trio of Ram, his wife, Sita, and his brother, Lakshman, were said to have been greeted with rows of diyas that not only signified joy at their homecoming, but also in their having vanquished evil.
Most epics and myths have a subtext that encourages people to look within. Good and evil are aspects of every human being’s psyche. When negative emotions like anger, jealousy, hatred and greed dominate, we are driven to actions and words that might be termed “evil”. For instance, the “evil” Ravan in the Ramayan was also a learned scholar. The fact that he allowed his negative traits to overpower all else led to his moral downfall. In the slaying of Ravan, the spiritual message is to “kill” those emotions or habit patterns that orient us towards negativity.
The way to do this is to strengthen the forces of good, the Ram within, who is as much a part of us as the forces of evil. Each situation in life can be a battleground for sharpening and wielding compassion, humility and inner equilibrium. In the face of provocation, can I remain calm? Can I see the other’s point of view? Can I act from a place of warmth and positivity, than react with judgmental anger? Am I able to introspect over my behaviour, rather than justify all my actions?
“Right” and “wrong” here do not refer to socially acceptable norms of behaviour. The truest compass for rightness and goodness is inbuilt. It is oriented toward certain ethics and values that are universally held to be good or correct, and form the perennial core of all philosophies.