The slight blinking flames in the puja area of the house is a sight to behold. In every Hindu household, a lamp is lit daily in front of the family deity. In some houses it is lit at dawn, in some, twice a day – at dawn and dusk – and in a few it is maintained continuously throughout the day (Akhanda Deepa). Some light the lamp even if there is no idol or image present. Every auspicious function commences with the lighting of the lamp or diya, which is often maintained right through the occasion.
Light symbolizes knowledge, and darkness, ignorance. The Lord is the “Knowledge Principle” (Chaitanya) who is the source and the illuminator of all knowledge. Hence light is worshiped as the Paramathma himself. This is the light that guides us through our lives. Knowledge removes ignorance just as light removes darkness. Also knowledge is a lasting inner wealth by which all outer achievement can be accomplished. Hence, we light the lamp to bow down in prayer for knowledge, the greatest of all forms of wealth.
Hindus specifically light oil or ghee lamps. But why an oil or a ghee lamp and not any other sources? They too remove darkness!The traditional oil lamp has a further spiritual significance. Oil or ghee in the lamp symbolizes our vaasanas or negative tendencies and the wick, the ego. When lit by spiritual knowledge, the vaasanas exhaust slowly and the ego too, finally perishes. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards. Similarly we also aim to acquire such knowledge that would take us towards higher ideals.
Prayer while lighting the lamp:
ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya |
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya |
Mrtyor-Maa Amrtam Gamaya |
Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantih ||
Om, (O Lord) Keep me not in the unreality (of the bondage of the phenomenal world), but lead me towards the Reality (of the eternal self),
(O Lord) Keep me not in the darkness (of ignorance), but lead me towards the light (of spiritual knowledge),
(O Lord) Keep me not in the (fear of) death (due to the bondage of the mortal world), but lead me towards the immortality (gained by the knowledge of the immortal self beyond death),
Om, (may there be) Peace, Peace, Peace.