The Significance of Festivals

[Reprinted from THE THEOSOPHICAL MOVEMENT, October 1961.]

Even a parable is a spoken symbol: a fiction or a fable, as some think; an allegorical representation, we say, of life-realities, events, and facts. And, as a moral was ever drawn from a parable, that moral being an actual truth and fact in human life, so an historical, real event was deduced—by those versed in the hieratic sciences—from certain emblems and symbols recorded in the ancient archives of the temples. The religious and esoteric history of every nation was embedded in symbols; it was never expressed in so many words. All the thoughts and emotions, all the learning and knowledge, revealed and acquired, of the early races, found their pictorial expression in allegory and parable. Why? Because the spoken word has a potency unknown to, unsuspected and dis-believed in, by the modern "sages."

The Secret Doctrine, I, 307

Perhaps in no other country is there so great a possibility of the revival of the ancient knowledge of Soul Science through festivals as in this country of India. Like folklore and many persistent social and religious customs, festivals too have a core of truth hemmed in too often by superstition and sham. Some of the sacred festivals have an astronomical significance. Some were fixed by the spiritual instructors of old to coincide with the seasons, for seasons are reflections of the cosmic processes in invisible Nature, and the climatic peculiarities of the seasons correspond to the psychic and spiritual tendencies of humanity. Every symbol has its meaning and many festivals and traditional events have their own symbolism.

Theosophy admits that many festivals enshrine facts of soul-life, and it provides the key for looking into their real meaning. Using that key intelligently, each can participate in them in an enlightened manner. Those who understand their significance celebrate them not by mere feasting and merry making, or by the observance of an outer ritual, but in their own heart-consciousness. But for their meaning to be understood they need to be dissociated from their form side. Dassera and Divali, which fall this year in October, are two such festivals—festivals which have a message for the earnest seeker.

Many are the stories and customs connected with these festivals, which have an esoteric basis. But how many people know, for instance, when they gather the leaves of the Shami tree on Dassera day, that they are commemorating a very ancient event? Or, when they illuminate their houses during Divali, the festival of lights—with humble oil lamps or with glowing electric bulbs—that this is symbolic of the lighting up of our tabernacle of flesh with the radiance which comes from within? How many realize that this hidden radiance, this "imprisoned splendour," cannot escape from the recesses of the heart, where it has been hemmed in by wall after wall of matter, save through the acquirement of spiritual knowledge—which is not mere head-learning?

The symbol of light can yield many meanings. From the Theosophical point of view, light stands for the one Source from which all things emanate, and in more than one place H.P.B. has explained its significance from the cosmic and metaphysical points of view.

Light is the first begotten, and the first emanation of the Supreme, and Light is Life, says the evangelist. Both are electricity—the life-principle, the anima mundi, pervading the universe, the electric vivifier of all things. Light is the great Protean magician, and under the Divine Will of the architect, its multifarious, omnipotent waves gave birth to every form as well as to every living being. From its swelling, electric bosom, spring matter and spirit. Within its beams lie the beginnings of all physical and chemical action, and of all cosmic and spiritual phenomena; it vitalizes and disorganizes; it gives life and produces death, and from its primordial point gradually emerged into existence the myriads of worlds, visible and invisible celestial bodies. (Isis Unveiled, I, 258)

Light issues out of the eternal background and splits up into Seven Rays or Seven Lights, "whose reflections are the human immortal Monads—the Atma or the irradiating Spirit of every creature of the human family" (The Secret Doctrine, I, 120). Here we have the metaphysical principle for understanding the radical unity of all manifestation. This is one fundamental idea of which the Divali festival reminds us. There are others, which the intuitive seeker can find for himself.

It is always interesting to discover that many of the customs which we observe in this 21st century, without knowing the reason for their observance, have come down to us from races and civilizations long since dead. It gives us a strange feeling to find that there is indeed nothing new under the sun and that what we are doing today other people in other lands have done in other eras. It makes us realize that, if anything is of true importance to men, whether it be a custom or the celebration of a festival, there must be something universal at its source.

Even the aspect of merry-making associated with festivals has its own significance. Joy—Ananda—is of the essence of the inner illumination. The clue to that real and deeper Bliss is primarily in knowing, to begin with theoretically, that man carries the radiance of divinity in the recesses of his heart and that it is "nearer unto man than his own jugular vein," as the Koran says. But,

Alas, alas, that all men should possess Alaya, be one with the Great Soul, and that possesing it, Alaya should so little avail them!...Alas, that so few men should profit by the gift, the priceless boon of learning truth, the right perception of existing things, the knowledge of the non-existent! (The Voice of the Silence, pp. 26-27)

Right perception of all things means evaluating them correctly; not as the world does, fancying reality where it does not exist.

To live and reap experience, the mind needs breadth and depth and points to draw it towards the Diamond Soul. (Voice, p. 28)

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