Diwali and the rise of the Feminine

By Anj Handa

Diwali, aka the “festival of lights” takes place this week. It is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated in Autumn, which coincides with the darkest New Moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month.

The festival represents the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. So it feels apt that nominations for the Igniting Inspiration Awards closed at the start of this week.

We have published every single nomination, highlighting the things that women in the North of England have been doing to bring about positive change. These stories have been the perfect antidote to negative world news. It’s great to be reminded how much good is taking place, even if it often goes unreported.

There are a few variations as to why Diwali is celebrated and those with South Indian heritage celebrated Chhoti (little) Diwali this year on 6th November, while North Indians like me celebrate the day after, on the 7th.

My family believe that Diwali is linked to the celebration of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity and consort of the god Vishnu.

Diya (small clay candle holders) or tea lights are placed around the home to welcome her blessings and a puja (prayer) is made to her. We eat good food, exchange gifts, and women sometimes decorate their hands with delicate henna patterns.

Many Hindu temples open their doors to people of every faith, often putting on firework displays. My family usually celebrate at home, but it doesn’t matter where it is celebrated – we can each mark it in our own way.

Lakshmi – the Ultimate Woman

The story of Lakshmi and her relationship with Vishnu is described in the fable ‘The Churning of the Milky Ocean’. In the tale, Indra, the warrior god, had protected the world against demons for many years, supported by Lakshmi’s presence.

One day, a sage offered him a garland of sacred flowers. The arrogant Indra threw the flowers to the floor, which upset Lakshmi. She was so troubled that she left the world of the gods and submerged into the Milky Ocean.

In her absence, the gods lost their power. The world became darker, and people became greedy. Demons took control, and Indra, unsure what to do, reached out to Vishnu for help.

Vishnu advised Indra that the gods would need to churn the Milky Ocean to bring her back, adding that it held other treasures, such as the elixir of life. This potion of immortality would enable them to defeat the demons.

And so the gods worked together to churn the ocean. Finally, 1000 years later, treasures began to rise up. Among them was Lakshmi, standing on a lotus flower. With her supportive presence, the gods eventually chased the demons.

The Message of Diwali

The moral of the story is that Lakshmi supports those who work hard and seek help sincerely. It also shows that during times of success, one must never become complacent or arrogant. Lakshmi resides in places of hard work, virtue and bravery.

The women we’ve featured through the Igniting Inspiration campaign all share those positive character traits – they’re astounding!

And over in the US, the Midterms have seen an unprecedented number of firsts: one-third of the candidates running for the House were women of colour, and a record number of women overall ran for office. 234 women won House and Senate primaries. There were at least 244 LGBT candidates, including 21 candidates for Congress and four for governor.

Many of these firsts arose as a result of #MeToo and Women’s Marches. The collective anger that women have harnessed is being used for good. Isn’t this the nature of fierce feminine anger? It rises when we need to protect that people and things that matter to us but in the same heartbeat can direct love to what we wish to nurture and repair.

Festivals allow us to convey wishes of wellbeing and abundance, hope, love and happiness. Let us work towards this each and every day. Diwali blessings to you!

Anj Handa is the Founder of Inspiring Women Changemakers, a dynamic movement of women leading transformational change. She helps women to speak up: for themselves, for others and for social issues.