Om Asato Ma Sat Gamaya Tamaso Ma Jyothis Gamaya – O Lord Lead us from Untruth to Truth, from Darkness to Light (Brahadaranyaka Upanishad,1:3:27).
This is the universal message of Diwali and it is associated with eternal struggle for justice and righteousness. Darkness represents ignorance, arrogance and all that is evil.
As succinctly expressed by The Hindu newspaper, the Festival of Lights has all the charm, grandeur and splendour that can even illuminate our minds and hearts, while also promoting much-needed peace, harmony and brotherhood in society.
As the global icon for peace and justice, Nelson Mandela, said: Lighting the sacred Diwali lamp symbolises the triumph of: “Enlightenment over blind faith,prosperity over poverty; knowledge of ignorance; good health and well-being over disease and ill health; freedom over bondage.”
This message of Diwali has greater contemporary relevance in South Africa as we battle to recover from the floods in KwaZulu-Natal. Furthermore, crime, violence and corruption threaten to erode hard-won democratic gains for which so many paid the ultimate price, and the poor and the disadvantaged will be the ultimate losers and, of course, the daily disruption caused by load shedding.
Against this doom and gloom, the festival of Diwali provides a catalyst for a spiritual revival and renewal of self-help, sacrifice, sharing, caring and community upliftment at personal, family and community levels. This is the essence of Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam (the whole world is our family), the Hindu equivalent of Ubuntu.
As we celebrate the triumph of radiance and righteousness over darkness and evil, it is appropriate to reflect on how we can illuminate the lives of those around us, who are less fortunate, regardless of race or religion. Spare a thought for those who are disadvantaged, destitute, unemployed, marginalised and socially excluded. The South African Hindu Maha Sabha’s Initiative 108, “Serving Humanity with compassion and respect”, provides one such opportunity to serve the needy selflessly.
It is also significant that across the world Diwali has now been celebrated by all countries – the UK government had a special Diwali service in Parliament in 2022; the US hosted the biggest Diwali reception in the White House; and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan congratulated all those in the UAE celebrating Diwali. He was joined by the UN secretary general and the Canadian and Australian prime ministers. The Sydney Opera House was especially lit to observe Diwali and Times Square in New York hosted a large Diwali celebration. This signifies how the rest of the world outside of India has recognised the importance of this special festival.
In our country, we await the government to not only recognise Diwali as a national celebration but also seriously consider declaring it a public holiday.
On behalf of all of us at the South African Hindu Maha Sabha, we wish you all a happy Diwali and a new year filled with joy and success.
Ashwin Trikamjee is the President, South African Hindu Maha Sabha