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Dipawali, one of the Indian people’s two major festivals, the other being Holi, is the festival of light seeking to illuminate in material terms the houses and ambience around, and in spiritual, the darkness within. It is for such duality of contexts that Dipawali has developed in the course of time secular as well as spiritual dimensions with the result that the lamps of Dipawali do not know which house, a Hindu’s, Jain’s, Sikh’s, Musalman’s, or Christian’s, or which shrine’s door, a Hindu or Jain temple’s, Church’s, Dargah’s, Gurdwara’s, Chaitya’s, or any, they are illuminating. Whether they share its mythicism or not, all sections of Indian society believe that Dipawali is the light’s victory over darkness, and that it is the harbinger of riches and prosperity, and further that after the months of monsoons, ruinous rainfall, unhygienic conditions and suspension of most of the activities it restores to life its normalcy, houses have a fresh look, rivers subdue and roads emerge and span distances, and corn begins ripening. A feeling of light’s mystique is common to all, though these are perhaps the indigenous Indian sects, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism among others, that have developed their own myths in regard to the origin of Dipawali festival. If for Hindus Dipawali commemorates the return of Rama to Ayodhya after defeating Lanka’s demon king Ravana, for Jains, final extinction of Mahavira, their last Tirthankara, for Sikhs, release and return of their Sixth Guru Sri Hargobind to Sri Harmandar Sahib, and to Buddhists, the day of determination to condole Maha Parinirvana – final extinction of their Master, by celebrating it with joyous lights.
The painting illustrates an essential feature of Dipawali celebrations. As is the prevalent custom, after worship-rites have been accomplished at home, or even otherwise, the first lamps lit on the occasion are offered to the deity in a nearby shrine, or to the holy shrine sans deity-image itself, perhaps under convictions that the light combined with the divine aura of the place/deity sanctifies and illuminates within and without, not those alone who light it but all. Here the two royal damsels, or rich ladies with trays of lighted lamps in hands, attended by two maids who carry sparklers in their hands, are at the Shiva’s shrine. The shrine, railing around and the courtyard in front of it have been covered with rows of lamps. The diagram, modeled like a wheel with spokes, composed of the rows of lamps close to shrine’s door-steps, is symbolic of the disc that rotates and with its light destroys the darkness. The spaces beyond the inner frame are illuminated with crackers’ light and colours bursting from them. The margin towards the bottom has in its centre a lamp-stand with multiple wicks consisting of two pairs of stylised birds and a tree motif, and two squarish ones of smaller size with wicks on all four corners.
This description by Prof. P.C. Jain and Dr. Daljeet. Prof. Jain specializes on the aesthetics of literature and is the author of numerous books on Indian art and culture. Dr. Daljeet is the curator of the Miniature Painting Gallery, National Museum, New Delhi. They have both collaborated together on a number of books.