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Spreading the Light

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Diwali celebration

Desiree Punwani tells us how to celebrate Diwali differently this time.

Sister Jessie is the closest person to a saint I know. She phoned me a few weeks back from Bodh Gaya, where she lives, requesting I help her raise funds for solar lamps. Many villagers around that area do not have electricity, so their nights can be quite dark. What an amazing opportunity, I thought, of lighting up lives this Diwali! So yes, several of us are doing just that. This Diwali we are buying solar lamps to light up homes in Bihar. For me, sitting in Mumbai, it gives a new meaning to ‘speed of light’.

Diwali celebrationEven hard-core businesses soften at this time and find ways to share prosperity. Big stores and ‘Sales Events’ offer precious space to NGOS free of cost so that they can sell diyas, kandeels and other items made by their members. Several people make it a point to buy generously from these NGOs during Diwali because they know that for many of them the sales from this period are their major source of income. They stock up on their supply of candles, gift bags, dusters, pickles and other goodies so that the organizers can generate the money needed for their cause. This is what I call a win-win situation.


How are you celebrating Diwali this year? A group of people I know organize thoughtfully chosen gift hampers, which they distribute to cancer patients in Tata Memorial Hospital. Going around the wards and seeing patients fight the darkness of cancer, lights a diya of compassion in their hearts, warmer than the ones on their doorstep.

During Diwali, many are infused with the spirit of giving. They give, and do so generously. A social worker at Nair Hospital tells me that several people bring food, fruit and sweets for the patients. She talks in glowing terms, however, about a well-wisher who last year took the trouble to survey 500 patients and then went out and got new outfits for all of them. Personal involvement, thus, seems to be what elevates generosity from a selfless activity to a joyous experience.

A satsang group in South Mumbai has stopped giving each other expensive gifts. Instead, they send a small symbolic memento along with cash envelopes and gifts for their staff, including drivers, house cleaners and cooks.

The giving is clearly not just about money. An NGO for street children tells me that although they appreciate the donations, both in cash and kind, which they get during the festive season, the highlight that the children look forward to is a group of teenagers who take time out during the Diwali holidays to come and interact with them.

They show them movies, play games and leave the children with wonderful memories. Similarly, many individuals and social groups organize meals and celebrations in orphanages and old people’s homes. They entertain them with music and dancing, sing and play games and end it all with a hearty festive meal. So really, it is more about spreading happiness than about giving handouts.

Diwali is a festival of light. There are so many creative ways of spreading light. There are groups of people who spread the ‘light of awareness’. They go from school to school creating awareness about child exploitation in the firecracker industry, the dangers of ‘Made in China’ products and the need for a noise-free Diwali. Because of such efforts, more and more people are opting for eco-friendly celebrations.

The best way I know of spreading light is to use the power of intention to wish it for everyone, including ourselves. Sincere wishes have potency beyond what we imagine possible. Here are some suggestions:

When we meet people, the smiles on our faces should light up theirs. Do you know why on Diwali it is important to light not electric bulbs but diyas? Electric bulbs and diyas both give light but only a diya can share its light to illuminate many other diyas. In the same way, our smile can light up countless faces.

Our wishes for all should be that the Laxmi they are praying for should make their burdens ‘lighter’, their lives brighter. Every Diwali baksheesh that leaves our hand should bring only joy. People should not only bring Laxmi into their homes but also Saraswati, so that the residents of the house are enriched with knowledge as well.

When greeting people with folded hands, think of the lotus bud shape of the namaste as an offering to the other person. ‘A flower for thee, o! Buddha to be,’ says the great Vietnamese monk and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh. Therefore, may each namaste be an offering on the altar of enlightenment. So let us also intend that during these auspicious days, everyone, including ourselves, find the ‘piece of string’ that will lead us out of our self created prisons.

Such well wishing generates enough power and energy to reach everywhere, even the remote villages of Bihar, where this Diwali over 1,500 homes will chase away the darkness by lighting solar lamps that came from all over India and overseas, on the strength of one person’s bright idea!

(Desiree Punwani is an EFT therapist and social worker. She can be contacted on dpunwani@gmail.com)

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