Historically, Diwali marks the day when Krishna was supposed to have slain Narakasura. Narak means hell — one who is causing hell to everyone is a Narakasura. When this “causing of hell” was brought to an end by Krishna, people celebrated by lighting lamps in every house.
The Narakasura event supposedly happened much later, but the culture and tradition of lighting lamps around this time goes back twelve to fifteen thousand years. People realised that life hits a point of inertia at this time of the year. The idea is that if you are not living like a cracker, fully alive and on, at least crackers around you could wake you up a little bit.
That is why on Naraka Chaturdashi, from around four o’clock in the morning, all over the country, crackers are burst, so everyone wakes up, comes alive.
This is about the nature of the festival, but the important aspect is to beat the inertia. Life is a play of time and energy. You have a certain amount of time and a certain amount of energy. Time passes — whether you are busy, lazy, healthy or sick. For all of us, time is rolling at the same pace. No one can slow it down; no one can hasten it. But your experience of time differs depending on whether you are joyful or miserable. If you are ecstatic, 24 hours will seem to pass like a moment. If you are depressed, 24 hours will seem like an eon for you.
If you are joyful, it is a very brief life. For the potential that a human being carries, even if you live a hundred years, they will pass in no time. But if inertia has set into you and you are miserable, it feels like time is not rolling. When people are miserable, the need for entertainment increases tremendously. When people are joyful, they do not have time for entertainment. Joy will take up all your time. You wake up in the morning, and before you even notice, it is already night. When you are joyful, you will do everything you can. When you are miserable, you will always attempt to avoid everything.
The culture of “Thank God it’s Friday” is catching up. That means five days of misery — two days, not of joy but generally of intoxication. If you want to make people laugh, sing, dance, or do something joyful, you have to drug them, or at least give them a glass of wine — otherwise it is not possible. This has happened because in a variety of ways, people are creating inertia within themselves. When inertia sets in, life will seem too long.
Diwali is a symbol of beating inertia, because inertia is the source of narak, or hell. Once inertia sets in, you will not go to hell — you will be hell. In anger, jealousy, hate, and fear, you create narak and become a Narakasura. If these are taken away, a new light shines.
On Diwali, you will see every town, city and village is lit up with thousands of lamps everywhere. But the celebration is not just about lighting lamps outside — an inner light has to come. Light means clarity. Without clarity, every other quality that you possess will only become a detriment, not a gift, because confidence without clarity is a disaster. And today, too much action in the world is performed without clarity.
Diwali is the day when the dark forces were put to death and light happened. This is also the predicament of human life. Like the dark clouds which brood in the gloomy atmosphere, not realising that they are blocking the sun, a human being does not have to bring any light from anywhere. If he just dispels the dark clouds that he has allowed to gather within himself, light will happen. The Festival of Lights is just a reminder of that.
(Sadhguru is a Yogi, mystic, visionary and a New York Times bestselling author. He is also the founder of the world’s largest people’s movement, Conscious Planet – Save Soil)