The symbolic meaning of Hindu festivals explained by Gautam Jain of Vedanta Foundation

Gautam Jain, founder of the U.S. chapter of The Vedanta Cultural Foundation based in New Jersey. Photo: courtesy Vedanta Cultural Foundation USA

Yet another Hindu religious festival, ‘Tulsi Vivah’ has begun for the devout.  Literally, the marriage of the Holy Basil plant to Vishnu, the Sustainer of the Hindu Trinity, ‘Tulsi Vivah’ can be interpreted in today’s ecological sense as a theory that all plants are holy and should be married to the Sustainer.

“There are many general religious festivals that we celebrate through the year.  Their underlying message is the same,” Gautam Jain of The Vedanta Cultural Foundation USA told News India Times.

Based in New Jersey the Foundation is an organization dedicated to teaching the eternal wisdom of life in the New York and New Jersey area.

The U.S. Chapter of the parent foundation in India formed by Indian philosopher Swami A. Parthasarathy translated the subtlety of philosophical theories into everyday life. The New Jersey Foundation is headed by Gautam Jain, known popularly as Gautamji, who had gone back to India after getting his engineering degree to spend twenty years on the study of the Vedanta philosophy under Swami Parthasarathy.

“Festivals are reminders of what our purpose in life is,” he said. adding, “They are reminders of our real self.  The purpose of the festivals is (for us) to reach a place of light of knowledge”.

“We usually go to the temple during festivals.  These and our monthly or weekly visits to the temple are also a reminder of our aim to look for self realization ultimately, which we may forget in the midst of our busy material world,” he said.

According to Gautamji, everything from the visits to the temple to the temple itself holds a symbolic significance in the Vedanta.

“The temple itself holds a symbolic significance.  The deity of a temple is in the center of the temple, in darkness, which shines when the priest lights a lamp.  The darkness is the darkness of ignorance,” he said, and added, “The light is the light of knowledge. The priest is the guru or guide.  And the Prasad which we get after, is us finding ourselves, of finding the oneness with the supreme purpose”.

Diwali which is one of the biggest Hindu festival also holds symbolic significance, said  Gautamji.  He said that there is a need to understand the philosophical symbolism of the rituals of the Diwali festival.

“We follow the rituals on Diwali but do not stop to think why we are celebrating Diwali and what it signifies,” he said, adding, “Diwali is all about gaining knowledge, destroying our selfish desires and regaining our true identity.  It is for this new self that we wear new clothes the next day, and distribute sweets, symbolic of distributing our newly gained knowledge,” said Gautamji.

And how does one get to the goal of self-realization? Gautamji said the steps to gain this knowledge are slow and structured.  “The goal is to gain the ultimate knowledge.  Following the path to it is like acquiring a manual for life, just as we get practical manuals for our phones, our televisions and our cars.  On this path, one has to begin by building one’s intellect, learning through a practical technique which one has to practice,” he said.

Continuing to explain, he said, “We have to overcome our own negative tendencies which exist in the form of stress, addiction, depression, divorce, terrorism, war, greed, climate change etc. The light of Vedanta knowledge will destroy the darkness of these negative elements.  These are selfish desires or demons and they manifest ignorance. Knowledge is the victory of goodness over evil.”

Learning the Vedanta philosophy can put one on the right path to self knowledge, scholars believe.

The ancients were wise. They assigned religious significance to simple rules of living.  Thus, the four months of Monsoon are ‘Chaturmas’ when food is simplified and is eaten once a day.  That was also the time when the gods are resting from dealing with all the troubles of the world, on ‘Dev Podhi Ekadashi’, leaving the responsibility of running life smoothly to mankind.

They wake up on ‘Dev Uthi Ekadashi’, the eleventh day of the new moon, and the Hindu wedding season begins. The wedding of ‘Tulsi’ takes place on the Full Moon Day, with many rituals.  That day is also named the ‘Dev Diwali’.

The psychology of religion poses a theory that religion plays a big part in many people’s lives to cope with life’s disturbances and hardships. Long before the social science of Psychology developed, ancient Indians seemed to have realized that.  And, this theory has been tested and proved many times in the last two years during the pandemic.

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