A diya or an earthen lamp is synonymous to the festival of Deepavali or Diwali. Diyas adorn every corner of the house on this very auspicious day and add fervour to the festive spirit which is accompanied by a number of delicacies to gorge on, bright and new clothes to wear, splash of rangoli on the floor and above all a time for families and friends to get together.
As we all know, Deepavali meaning ‘row of lamps (Deepon ki avali), is celebrated to mark the victory of good over evil. The people of Ayodhya had welcomed the return of Lord Ram, his consort Sita and brother Lakshman, who were in exile for 14 long years.
Lord Ram, Lakshman, Lord Hanuman and an army of monkey, under the leadership of Vanar Raj Sugreeva had defeated Ravana, the king of Lanka who had abducted Sita. And that signified the triumph of good over evil.
However, there’s something more symbolic about the diyas or jyot. Most Hindu households often light a diya once every morning and in the evening. It’s not just a customary practice but signifies the submission of one’s soul to the supreme power.
The oil in the diya represents the dirt (greed, jealousy, hatred, lust etc) that humans tend to nurture while the cotton wick is symbolic of the aatman (self). So in order to attain enlightenment and unite with the Brahman (the supreme power), one must get rid of materialism. A diya emits light when the wick fuelled by oil burns.
Moreover, a Diya also symbolises knowledge. An ignorant person would often remain in dark and wouldn’t be able to keep a check on the events happening around him. It is only when he feels the need to gain some knowledge that he will realise the purpose of his existence. And hence in this case, a diya/jyot signifies the removal of ignorance through knowledge.
The following mantra in Sanskrit throws light on the path one must adopt to attain peace and it highlights the importance of jyoti (light):
Asato maa sad-gamaya (Lead us from Untruth to Truth)
Tamaso maa jyotir-gamaya (From Darkness to Light)
Mrityor-maa-mritan gamaya (From Death to Immortality)
OM shaanti shaanti shaanti (OM peace, peace peace)
So, a Diya doesn’t merely represent a decorative item but reminds one and all to give up their materialistic desires, defeat their ignorance by gaining knowledge if they wish to merge with God.