“Today evening in the city of Raghuvira there is great splendor and beauty. The Lord of Ayodhya is seeing the lovely festival of Diwali, which does so much good.” (Gitavali, 309.01)
sām̐jha samaya raghubīra-purīkī sobhā āju banī |
lalita dīpamālikā bilokahiṁ hita kari avadhadhanī ||
How old is the festival of Diwali? Go millions of years into the past, when the king of Ayodhya was the Supreme Lord Himself, appearing in an incarnation form. Known as Shri Ramachandra for His spiritual attributes, or gunas, He earned many other names through His great actions and deeds. On the sacred occasion of Diwali, we remember Him fondly as Raghuvira, the hero of the Raghu dynasty, and Avadha-dhani, the Lord of Ayodhya.
“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)
That hero lived up to the name Raghuvira by protecting the pious and annihilating the miscreants. In His form of Krishna, He would later make that promise in the Bhagavad-gita. He appears millennium after millennium to annihilate the miscreants and to protect the sadhus, who are the pious souls.
In Rama’s time the miscreants were the Rakshasas from Lanka. These were like man-eating ogres. Their enemy was the pious. The sadhus living peacefully in the forest, not harming anyone, not chasing after the almighty dollar, not competing in the business world to get ahead. The ogres would attack at night, in the darkness and with a masked shape. They would pounce right at the time of sacrifice, yajna, which was when the penance and austerity of the sadhus was set to bear fruit, both personally and to society at large.
“Then I, resembling a cloud and having molten-golden earrings, made my way into Vishvamitra’s ashrama, for I was very proud of my strength due to the boon given to me by Lord Brahma. As soon as I entered, Rama quickly noticed me and raised His weapon. Though He saw me, Rama strung His bow without any fear.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.16-17)
Rama protected the yajnas when He lived in the forest for a while with Vishvamitra, the spiritual guide, and Lakshmana, His devoted younger brother. The uniqueness of Diwali is that it is something like a yajna, except it is done for the benefit of the Supreme Lord. It is like wishing auspiciousness for someone very dear to you, except that person is the most powerful in the world. He is the protector of the living entities struggling in a material existence.
Yet in Ayodhya the people set up rows of lamps, dipas, in His honor. When Rama triumphantly returned home from having rid the world of the king of Rakshasas, He received a hero’s welcome. That celebration became an annual occasion, one which Rama later happily enjoyed.
In this verse from the Gitavali of Goswami Tulsidas, we are transported back in time, to a wonderful evening in Raghuvira’s city. There is auspiciousness in the air, as the people have set up rows of dipas in Rama’s honor, just like on the night of His return home. The poet uses the words “hita kari,” to indicate that this festive occasion does the most good.
The people were not crazy. They know that God is Almighty. They know that He is great. They know that He is ultimately in charge of all His energies, including the material world. They know the cycle of rebirth, and how pious activity brings one further along the path of liberation, and how impiety keeps a person bound to rebirth perpetually, sometimes going to the lower species, where there is no chance at serving God.
Ah, but that service is what is most important to them. The people don’t mind if they ascend to heaven or go to hell, their only desire is to please Rama. They wish for His welfare. They celebrate Diwali in His honor, to make Him happy. Since Rama is the Supersoul, a personal but unmanifest expansion residing within the heart of every creature, He sees and appreciates such celebrations. He protects the devotion of the devotees. This is why He is identical to bhakti-yoga. He reciprocates by always remaining in the consciousness of the devotees. On the occasion of Diwali, He watches in great appreciation and joy.
Today most wonderful night,
Rows of dipas celebrating light.
Even hero of Raghu dynasty bright,
Watching happily in delight.
People for His welfare praying,
Highest possible love displaying.
Diwali for this purpose meant,
Auspicious time in devotion spent.