DIWALI – A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

DIWALI – A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE
Fr. Varghese Paul, S.J.
The earthen lamp is a very common symbol of Diwa
li. In Gujarati there is
a proverb, which says
that the lamp shines the bright
est when it goes home.
Similarly as we light hundreds of lamps on
Diwali we can say that when Diwali comes the lamps shine the brightest.
Diwali is celebrated in whole world wherever ther
e are Indians. But in India Diwali is celebrated
by the followers of all religions by lighting the ea
rthen lamps and in some cases candles. While
celebrating Diwali this year let us
dwell a little while about th
e ideals and the understanding of
Diwali in a Christian perspective.
Traditionally we light earthen
lamps celebrating the victory
of Ram over Ravana. We also
remember King Vikramaditya’s victory over his en
emies. Every Diwali we also celebrate the
event of Vishnu Bhagavan destroying Narkasur, the demon of hell.
From a religious point of view,
all religion give great significan
ce to light and lamp giving light.
The lamps and lights have great importance in th
e Christian worship and ot
her religious rites and
sacraments.
The traditional use of lights and candles in Christianity is inherited from four different sources:
First, Jewish religion; second,
Pagan and civil use; third, ordi
nary need and usefulness; and
fourth natural symbol.
According to the law given by Moses, the Jews
use golden candle lamp-stand with six branches.
The lamp-stand has seven lamps. The lamps are so
set up that they shine towards the front (see
Ex. 25, 31-37). The lamp-stand with seven la
mps is a symbol of Jewish religion.
The Jews burn lamps at the altar of their temple
. In the Feast of Dedication of the Temple, the
Jews light so many lamps that the feast is
called ‘Hanukkah’, that is
, “Feast of Light”!
In ancient times the Pagans had the custom of
burning lamps or lighting
candles at their holy
places and in front of statues of their gods. On f
east days they used to lit lamps and put them on
the doorposts. There was also the custom of peopl
e burning lamps in front
of statues of Roman
emperors.
From the time of the invention of fire and light,
the need and usefulness of fire and light have
been universally accepted. Before the invention
of electricity people have had only fire and
lamps for light to drive away darkness. Even t
oday people in interior vi
llages use all types of
lamps for light where electric
ity has not reached yet.
Lamps and lights have unique significance in Ch
ristian religion. In the Old Testament of the
Bible. The first words spoken by God in the firs
t book of the Bible are,
“Let there be lights”
(Gen. 1, 3). The Bible uses symbols like light, fire
, lightening, etc. to indicate the presence of
God and his dealing with men
and women of ancient times.
Prophet Ezekiel says, “The dazzling light of the
Lord’s presence rose up from the creatures and
moved to the entrance of the Temple. Then, th
e cloud filled the Temple and the courtyard was
blazing with the light” (Ezekiel 10,
4). The Book of Baruch conclude
s that “God will
lead Israel
home… surrounded by the light of his gl
orious presence” (Baruch 5, 9).
Prophet Isaiah prophesying about ‘the Lord’s Se
rvant’, meaning Jesus Christ says, “Through you
I will make a covenant with all peoples; throug
h you I will bring light to the nations” (Isaiah 42,
6). Thus we see innumerable references to li
ght, lamp and fire, etc. in Old Testament.
The symbolic language of fire, lamp, light, etc. is
also in the New Testament of the Bible. St.
John referring to Jesus Christ says, “The Word wa
s the source of life, and this life brought light
to humankind. The light shines in the darkness”
(John 1, 4-5). In the New Testament Jesus is
often referred to as “Light of humankind”, “A li
ght to reveal God’s will to the Gentiles”, “True
light, which enlightens everyone”, “t
he light of the world”, etc.
The Jesus himself has compared his followers as
light and has said, “You
are like light for the
whole world. A city built on a hill cannot be
hidden. No one lights a
lamp and puts it under a
bowl; instead he puts it on the lamp stand, where it
gives light for everyone in the house. In the
same way your light must shine before people,
so that they will see th
e good things you do and
praise your Father in he
aven” (Mt. 5, 14-16).
In all the celebrations of liturgy and sacraments in the Christian religion light in the form of oil
lamps or candles are obligatory. All Christian prayer
s and devotions are held in all churches with
lighted lamps or candles on the al
tar. A lighted lamp or candle is
the symbol of the presence of
Jesus in the Church. So Catholic
Christians burn perpet
ually oil lamps, candles or in some cases
electrical bulbs indicating the presence of Jesus in
the blessed sacrament in the sanctuary of the
Church.
Christmas liturgical celebrations
are held in Christian Churches
centred around light / fire as
Jesus is seen as the Divine Light. Similarly the
Easter, that is, the Feas
t of the Resurrection of
Jesus, is also liturgically celebrated around a new
fire and then lighting the ‘Easter Candle’ from
the fire recalling that Jesus hims
elf has said, “I have come into the world as light” (John 12, 46).
Christians in India join the people of other fait
hs to celebrate the Diwali with enthusiasm and
gusto. Christians too like the people of other fait
hs lit numerous lights, earthen lamps or candles
and put them on places like balconys and courtyar
ds of their houses. Th
ey often join their
neighbours in the celebrations of
Diwali, the festival of light
by personal visits and sharing
sweets and other gifts.