We returned from Uttarkashi to New Delhi for the celebration of Kali Puja and Diwali.
Diwali is the festival of lights, commemorating the return of Ram to Ayodhya. The night before the festival of lights, we worship Kali, the remover of darkness.
In the worship of the Nava Durgas (the nine relievers of difficulties), Kala Ratri (the Dark Night of Overcoming Egotism) precedes Maha-Gauri, (the Great Radiant Light). This is why we worship Kali first, then celebrate Diwali.
In prepration for Kali Puja and Diwali, Shree Maa led us all in decorating Sanjay’s home and altar with strings of lights (much like Christmas lights) and tea candles.
We also lit a path of lights leading to the door of the home. This is considered to be an offering to invite Lakshmi, the Goddess of True Wealth, into our homes.
Shree Maa meticulously prepared the Puja for Swamiji, making sure no item was missing.
Devotees slowly began trickling into the puja room as the time of Kali Puja approached.
When Shree Maa and Swamiji were ready to perform the puja, the room had become packed with devotees. They were all eager to give up their darkness and invite in the light of divinity.
The room was just large enough to accommodate the Puja and everyone present, but no larger than that.
The devotees present had brought an abundance of sweets and fruits. They just kept stacking up! There would be no lack of prasad from our worship.
We began the puja by offering flowers, light, and incense to Kali Maa. Swamiji also performed Kalasha Sthapana, invoking Kali, the remover of darkness, to reside there during our worship.
Having thoroughly worshipped the Divine Mother and having invited her and welcomed her, we then began reciting various stotrams (hymns) for her.
We recited the Adya Stotram (the Song of the Foremost), the Kali Kavacham (the armor of Kali) and the Kali Shatanam (100 names of Kali).
Everyone was caught up in the joy of worship, being led in the recitation of the mantras by Shree Maa and Swamiji.
When we had finished reciting the Kali Shatanam, Swamiji began the worship for the sacrifice of the Ego. The ego is represented by a loki squash in the worship.
First, Swamiji worshipped the sacrificial knife which would be the tool for symbolically severing our attachment to Egotism.
In the handle he worshiped Brahma and Saraswati, who are responsible for the creation of existence.
In the middle part, he worshiped Vishnu and Lakshmi, who are responsible for the preservation of existence.
Finally, on the end of the blade, he worshiped Shiva and Parvati, who are responsible for its dissolution.
Thus, the knife came to represent the Supreme Divinity, who creates, preserves, and dissolves this entire universe.
Held firmly in the hand of the Guru, the Ego in the form of the squash was certainly no match!
With great reverence and care, Swamiji slowly raised that knife, which had now been respected as the Supreme Divinity, into the air. When it reached its zenith, he held it there. The room became silent, and Swamiji instructed everyone to take all their Ego, all their darkness and negativities, and place them into the sacrificial offering in the form of the squash.
Thus the meaning of the sacrifice was firmly established. It went from an idea, to a bhavana (a spiritual feeling), to a reality. This was really the sacrifice of all our darkness.
Stillness and silence reigned in the room as Swamiji still held the knife firmly in the air. Again and again we tried to offer up our darkness as the sacrifice, waiting for it to come down, then…. “Phat!” with the recitation of the mantra, the knife came down, severing our attachment to Egotism.
Swamiji placed a candle on the severed squash representing the dawning of the light within us. Then having given up our darkness, what was there left to do? Sing the praise of the Divine Mother of course!
Thus emboldened with the sentiment of the sacrifice, we began the recitation of the Kali Sahasranam (the thousand names of Kali). With attention and devotion, we continued in our recitation.
After finishing the recitation of the thousand names, Shree Maa led us in singing songs for the Divine Mother Kali. Having already performed the Puja, thousand names and the sacrifice of the Ego, it was easy for everyone to get into the Bhava (spiritual attitude) of the singing. Everyone enjoyed the eulogizing of the Divine Mother to the utmost.
When we had finished, everyone stood up and performed arati, each person taking a turn to offer the light with full sincerity. We all excitedly sang “Jai Maa! Jai Maa!” to the accompaniment of Swamiji’s keyboard, the drum and Shree Maa’s favorite instrument, the spoon and plate! The conch blew, and we all joined together in shouts of “Kali Maa ki Jai!”
Everyone then lined up, or rather gather around as the crowded room allowed, to receive prasad and blessings from Shree Maa and Swamiji. Shree Maa had also prepared prasad for everyone of Kitchari, Labra and Chutney.
The offering given by Shree Maa and Swamiji was so full, complete and perfect, that I was sure the Divine Mother must have been pleased.
She was more than happy to remove our darkness and fill us with light. Thus the meaning of Kali Puja was truly fulfilled, and we all eagerly awaited the celebration of light, Diwali.
A smaller crowd of devotees joined us the next day to celebrate Diwali. Swamiji, in a small rhyme, describes that during Diwali we worship, “Lakshmi – Ganesh, Gauri – Mahesh.” Meaning, we worship Ganesh, Lakshmi, Durga and Shiva. Swamiji performed puja according to that tradition. He made the offerings of worship to Lakshmi, but also included smaller pujas for Ganesh, Durga, Shiva and Vishnu.
We chanted, performed puja, offered arati, sang and then Shree Maa fed everyone with prasad she helped prepare. Of course, this was nothing unusual for Shree Maa and Swamiji. This is the enduring example of their lives. They show us how to worship, how to sing for God, how to celebrate divinity and how to always make a pure offering to those around us. They show the example and give us the inspiration to follow it. We all felt so privileged to be in their association, in their Satsangha, especially on the auspicious occasion of Diwali, celebrating the light.
In the evening, the sky was filled with fireworks and they continued throughout the night. Everywhere could be seen candles and diyas (small clay oil lamps). Christmas type lights profusely adorned every building and people were celebrating everywhere.
At one point during the day Sanjaya, whose home we were staying at, went out. Later when he returned I asked him where he had been, “I had to go to the office.” came the reply. Surprised, I asked him how that could be, because surely his office, like almost all offices, was closed for Diwali. He responded, “Well, we had to do Puja at the office.” What an inspiring concept!
During Diwali, even places of work became places of worship.