Diwali is a time to celebrate the sharing of our light with others. In our tradition, and in many parts of India, prior to celebrating Diwali we first worship Mother Kali, The Remover of Darkness. Kali Maa is the great mother who takes away our negativity so that the light can shine.
This is one of the most remarkable celebrations that Shree Maa and Swamiji perform every year. It is remarkable because when Kali Maa is invoked, we can feel Her intense energy envelope us.
This is what Diwali is all about — sharing our love.
Since childhood, Shree Maa has participated in grand Diwali celebrations, and this 2014 celebration performed in Rishikes was equally comparable.
Shree Maa knows how to throw a party, and She left no stone unturned as She planned for this one. In preparation for this festive event, Shree Maa gathered a small group of devotees nearly every day for almost a week to teach them Kali bhajans.
We practiced and practiced to get the correct pronunciation, the precise rhythm, and, most importantly, to infuse ourselves with Shree Maa’s bhava.
In addition to our daily bhajan practice, every evening we participated in satsangha with Shree Maa and Swamiji, and chanted the Kali Sahasranam and the powerful Aparajita Stotram. Afterwards, we would also sing the Kali songs that Shree Maa so lovingly taught.
The group was prepared — we could chant in unison and were able to sing in a way that lifted the spirits of all in attendance.
Finally, the destined day had come! The time to perform the Kali worship and to celebrate Diwali was upon us. Though every beat of my heart pounded with excitement, I tried my best to suppress it in order to remain focused on my seva, for, on this day, I was given the privilege to help set up the homa and to ensure the electronic equipment worked properly.
Shree Maa segmented the program into three main parts: in the early afternoon we performed the Kali Puja at the altar, in the early evening we went outside near the bank of the Ganges River to perform the Homa, and then later we were back inside for a final puja and arati.
There were a little over 20 devotees who gathered to celebrate. During the puja, several devotees concentrated near the altar so they could see first-hand Swamiji make the offerings on behalf of our group. Swamiji encouraged participation by projecting the puja mantras on the wall.
Many of us chanted along with Shree Maa and Swamiji, but I noticed some of the others drew silent. It was as if a deep peace penetrated their minds and they became mesmerized just listening to the sound of the mantras.
When the puja came near to its conclusion, Shree Maa asked everyone to offer pushpanjali (a handful of flowers) with the last of the mantras. Everyone together made their offerings to Kali, praying for Her to remove all darkness and illuminate the light.
There were a few short hours between the puja and the homa and we wasted no time in preparation. Shree Maa instructed Ramya to decorate the balcony with tea lights to invite Maha Lakshmi’s golden light into the ashram, while others, including myself, helped Swamiji set up the Kali homa.
We had picked out an ideal location for the homa. It was just outside of Swami Ramkripaluji’s ashram, in front of the majestic Ganges River, and adjacent to a near-by cement block wall.
We first set up a Vedi, which is a raised area for the fire, and got our hands a little dirty as we carefully crafted the mud into a ~ 3 inch high square platform. After clean-up, we began to transport all of the homa ingredients to the site location, as well as electronic speakers, a projector, and several mats upon which we could sit.
But our most important delivery that day happened to be our beloved Mother Shree Maa, who wanted to participate in the homa set-up. With a big smile on Her face, Shree Maa sat on Her much cherished palki, and we carefully delivered Her to Swamiji at the homa site.
She sat calmly, in perfect stillness, as She watched all of us help Swamiji with the homa preparations.
Occasionally Shree Maa would express a desire for something to be done and, as you can imagine, we all dropped what we were doing and raced to Her side to try to fulfill Her desire. At one point, She took a handful of marigolds and began making a beautiful AUM sign on the top of the homa vedi. It turned out lovely.
As we set up the electronics, we cleverly hung a white sheet on to the brick wall, which would serve as our projector screen. We also set up a computer so that we could record the homa for our global family.
They recognized the homa pit, but they could not imagine why a computer and an iPad were in the vicinity of a homa pit. They were also puzzled by the mysterious white sheet hanging on the dirty cement wall.
Be it adults, children, or sadhus they all wanted to know what we were up to, and some even gathered the courage to come over and ask us.
I must admit, I am very proud of the creative inspiration which allowed us to marry modern technology with ancient systems of worship.
This empowered everyone in the nearby vicinity, be they Sadhu or passerby, to join in our worship. The mantras were clearly projected on the white sheet, there was ample room on the mats to sit, and we had extra masala for offering to the fire. In this way, anyone who wished to join would be able to.
It was now approaching early evening and the waning sun cast pink, gold, and peach highlights upon the distant sky. The devotees began to arrive and they set up their asanas, music stands, iPads, and books.
It was quickly growing dark, and though it wasn’t yet chilly, I was hoping the crackling fire would keep us toasty through the evening. Then, I noticed Shree Maa and Swamiji look into each other’s eyes, as if in recognition that the time had come to start the homa. With a deep breath, I internally said the words “Jai Maa!” and then Swamiji began.
Everyone was spellbound as Swamiji established the Divine Fire. As the fire roared, Swamiji led the group in the Kali Sahasranam (1000 Names of Kali Maa), and we offered oblations with an enthusiastic “Swaha!” after each name.
But even louder was the sound of the names of the Goddess reverberating through the atmosphere.
Even brighter was the light shining in our hearts as Kali Maa removed our darkness.
The objective of our Kali Homa is to offer our negativity to the Divine Fire. I wanted to keep focused on this objective, while welcoming anything that was meant to be on that great evening, even the fireworks.
Without judgement, without evaluation, and with pure acceptance, I began to enjoy the fireworks that were exploding around us. I integrated the fireworks into my worship, rather than rejecting them, or becoming frustrated with the noise. When one “popped,” I would envision negativity being lifted from me, or I would envision Maha Kali becoming more and more pleased. In this way, I grew to enjoy the unique situation that was presented to us.
When the 1000 names were complete, Swamiji began reciting the mantras for the sacrifice of the Ego, which was represented by a lauki (a kind of squash).
He explained to everyone that they should place all of their Ahamkara, all of their darkness and egotism, into that squash and let it be the sacrifice to God.
Swamiji recited the mantras and drew the sacrificial knife up into the air. A dramatic pause followed. Swamiji had told me on a previous occasion, “No matter how much you want to bring the knife down, it just won’t go until the Divine Mother gives the order.”
Everyone sat waiting for the knife to come down. Despite all the fireworks and noise going on around us, it seemed as if there was utter silence … still the knife hung in the air … then “Phat!” Swamiji chanted the mantra loudly as he brought the knife down.
Shree Maa shouted out “Kali Mata Ki …” and everyone responded with a resounding “Jai!”
Swamiji held up the two pieces of the sacrificed lauki and, with a big smile on his face, said, “The Ego is gone!” He then chanted the Gayatri Mantra while cutting the lauki into several pieces. These pieces were distributed to everyone, and they eventually offered their egos, in the form of the pieces of squash, to the Divine Fire.
Our spirits were soaring as we packed up, but amazingly, the divine festivities were not over yet!
We all gathered back at the ashram for a puja and performed the 108 light arati. Now that our darkness was removed, it was time to celebrate the coming of the light.
Shree Maa and Swamiji sang and danced for Kali, inspiring everyone to follow their example.
Upon the seeing the sparkler, Shree Maa continued the arati, but this time with sparklers!
Her face was beaming with a radiant smile and child-like glee as she participated in the sparkler arati.
And so, this grand Diwali celebration was a huge success.
It was easy to see the shift in everyone who participated.
Their darkness was removed, the light of bliss was revealed, and the child-like innocence was lovingly expressed as we joyfully played with sparklers, sang “Jai Maa,” and even headed back outside to light our own fireworks.
As I grew ready for slumber, I challenged myself to remember these precious moments, knowing that my real journey begins when I come down from the spiritual mountaintop, enter the world where the work must be done, and apply the light as a gift to the weary and to the difficult situations that present themselves.
As Shree Maa and Swamiji teach, it is our responsibility to share and give back to the world. Why not share our light continuously? We don’t even have to wait for Diwali to do it. We can start now!