The sacred month of Karthikam is over. In culmination, the missus has contented herself with floating oil lamps in the placid waters of a big plastic tub within the house. In the past, when the streams nearby or even the lakes far off were cleaner and pristine, she used to go there, with me tagging along, and float off lamps as an offering to the gods, mother nature and to the delight of people passing by the stream..Those were the days when people from the neighborhood and even from places far off used to come to the streams, bathe in the cool waters of the streams, cook and eat food with waters of the stream, rest beneath the pleasant shade of trees on the bank and thus celebrate the traditional festive picnic. (Karthika Vana Bhojanalu). The streams have turned, over the past few decades, into noxious conveyors of stench, filth and disease to all those unfortunate to live near their banks. This is some growth and development for you.
Early in the month I bought the month’s supply of cow’s ghee , gingelly oil, small shallow earthen cups, and cotton wicks for fashioning the traditional lamps of the Karthika month.
Despite slightly indifferent health, the missus has religiously got up daily, well before the dawn ,took a bitingly cold shower , paid obeisances to her extensive pantheon, and placed lamps on the gate posts of our house and in the small alcoves around the small brick structure housing the Tulasi (Basil) plant. She would repeat this ritual at the dusk also daily. On Mon Days and the Full Moon day of the month especially, she would prod me to follow her routine for the great days. We would fast for the day and take a single meal in the evening after the dusk. In the afternoon, we would. go to the Siva Temple in the colony, and light a lamp at the temple. This lamp is a bigger version of the usual oil lamp.It is a bigger shallow earthen bowl filled with gingelly oil.A bunch of 360 cotton wicks, one to account for each day of the past year is soaked in oil and placed in the earthen bowl and lighted in devout salutation to the Lord.
I have seen in my childhood, my mom perform these rituals, despite the pressing and distracting demands of a more than handful of children, her own and those of close relatives visiting us around the time, or the ones of the neighbor. That is tradition, for ypu, simpler old times not yielding place to a complexer new.
There are a couple of great words in Sanskrit for these lamps, Deepa Araadhana, Deepa Danam, meaning ‘Obeisance with or to a lamp.’, ‘Donation of a Lamp.’.in fact a lamp is reverently referred to as the Ultimate Creator, ‘DeepaJyothi Parabrahma’, and when one notices a lamp lit for the first time in the evening one reverently salutes it. And when one invokes the gods, one invarably, courteously, says, .’ Pray, let me show a lamp to you’ Deepam Darsayaami,
These rituals of course are a throw back to the days when fire and lamps were precious and to be guarded zealously. To the days of yore, which were far removed from the advent of the arc lamps, the filament lamps, Tube lights , CFLs, LCDs, LDEs, and garish than a day commercial lighting.
These tiny lamps of oil or cow-ghee are sobering and soothing in today’s hectic and bewildering and complex world.
In fact most cultures of the world revere light, lustre and lamp as
Jyothi, Prabhs, Noor-ki-tajalli , Noor-e-Ilaahi, effulgence, splendour or simply Kindly Light. And the inner, innate Godliness residing deep within ones bosom is invariably referred to as the inner light, that cautions and enlightens one.
In one of his nice couplets Mirza Ghalib says,
The Sun shines forth in the sky by virtue of Your splendid munificence.
Otherwise he would be just the proffered hand of a beggar.
And when he was in a blue mood he would wail, ‘zulmat_kade me.n mere shab-e-Gham kaa josh hai ik shammaa hai daliil-e-sahar, so Khamosh hai”–In this dingy hovel of mine, the misery of night abounds, Here as a reminder of dawn is a candle, but it also, alas isn’t alive.
This reminds one of the verse 13. of Ch..13, of the Bhagawadgeetha , wherein Lord Krishna declares,
Yadha prakasayatyekaha krutsnam lokamimam Ravihii
Kshetram kshetree tathaa krutsnam prakasayathi Bharataah.
Just as the one single Sun brightens this entire universe, the one Single One who inhabits all the entities in the whole universe , enlightens all of them.
And in verse 9, Ch.8, Lord Krishna describes Himself as splendorous as the sun and distances himself from the darkness of ignorance.
And this invocation for peace from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, pleads with the Lord to lead the world from from Darkness to Light.
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
In our school days we had a nice English hymn in our syllabus, for recitation, “Lead Kindly Light..”. This great poem was a favorite of Mahama Gandhi, who used to deploy it in his missives, as a part of his armory in trying to make the unjust and. Imperious powers-that-be see some reason.
As I recollect this hymn that I learnt in my childhood once again, it brings to my mind the great lyric of Tyagaraja, ‘Nagu momu gana laeni naa jaali-delisee’.
Here is this beautiful poem Lead Kindly Light penned by John Henry Newman.
“Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th’encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.
I was not ever thus, nor prayed that Thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path; but now
Lead Thou me on!
I loved the garish day, and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will. Remember not past years!
So long Thy power hath blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on.
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone,
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile!
Meantime, along the narrow rugged path,
Thyself hast trod,
Lead, Saviour, lead me home in childlike faith,
Home to my God.
To rest forever after earthly strife
In the calm light of everlasting life.”
Here is a YouTube video of a rendering of the hymn, by a, ‘ choir of Wells Cathedral’
Check out this video on YouTube: