India’s Festival of Lights Strengthens East-West Bond

August 6, 2014

Diwali, the Hindu “festival of lights,” was celebrated for the first time by the United States Congress on October 29. A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined prominent Indian-Americans to light diyas, traditional oil lamps, as a priest intoned ancient Vedic mantras in Sanskrit. Representative Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu-American to serve in Congress, commented that the historic event at the Capitol “embodied the message of Diwali: that we must serve others before ourselves, celebrate the victory of light over darkness, and seek truth over untruth.”

At the Massachusetts State House, another Diwali celebration took place on November 4, organised by Boston’s South Asian Arts Council. Self-Realization Fellowship Swamis Prafullanandaji and Devanandaji assisted Governor Deval Patrick in lighting the traditional lamp.

Swami Devananda leading kirtan chanting in the Hall of Flags in the Massachusetts State House.

The program included kirtan chanting led by Swami Devananda, the first ever at the State House, a short guided meditation, and an Indian feast. Two hundred copies of Autobiography of a Yogi were distributed to the assembled dignitaries and guests. According to Amit Dixit, founder and executive director of the South Asian Arts Council, “Many prominent Bostonians participated in the event, including representatives from Jewish, Buddhist, and Christian faiths, which was fitting because Diwali’s themes are not sectarian but inclusive and universal— truth, light, and love.”

Swami Devananda leading kirtan chanting in the Hall of Flags in the Massachusetts State House.

Swami Prafullananda in his address explained the historical context and significance of Diwali, summarised here:

“It is an honour to represent Self-Realization Fellowship at this Diwali lighting ceremony here in the Massachusetts State House—and to express the tribute that Yogoda Satsanga Society of India/Self-Realization Fellowship’s founder Paramahansa Yogananda would certainly have given to the cultural and spiritual exchange taking place here today.

Swami Prafullananda conducting closing prayer in Massachusetts State House, with Governor Deval Patrick on far right.

“It seems fitting that Massachusetts—eldest brother of religious freedom among our fifty states—should sponsor this event. Historically, Massachusetts was home to the Transcendentalist movement in America, the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita being first made known in the New World by Emerson and Thoreau. A half century later, Boston hosted Swami Vivekananda, renowned for personally bringing India’s universal spiritual teachings to the West.

Paramahansa Yogananda and Governor Alvan T. Fuller in the Massachusetts State House, 1928

“Some thirty years later, in 1920, YSS/SRF founder Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in Boston, invited as the delegate from India to the International Congress of Religious Liberals, which was convened to mark the 300th anniversary of the landing of the Pilgrims. Though he knew not a single person when he first arrived, Paramahansaji’s success in bringing yoga meditation to hundreds of thousands all over America was such that upon returning to Boston eight years later he was welcomed as a native son, meeting with Governor of Massachusetts Alvan T. Fuller in this very hall. So today’s events are really part of a long and ongoing tradition of appreciation by Americans of the ancient heritage of India.

“Our event today holds many levels of meaning. Metaphorically, Diwali signifies the triumph of light over darkness, of good over evil. In a still deeper sense it signifies the birth of awareness of the inner light of the soul as our human consciousness is purified through spiritual endeavour. It is our hope that the candles lighted today will serve to symbolically increase the inner light of each person present, and of every member of our large, large human family.”


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