A simple symbol can become a powerful element that helps one discover the soul and understand divinity. By RANI JHALA
“Come,my child,” Ma said as she led the way. I took my first step as I heard her add with a smile, “There is much I need to learn from you.”
‘Ma’, as Mata Sitamayee was lovingly called, was among the many neo-saints of modern India . As society moved towards materialistic success, gurus and mas were sprouting everywhere. It was normal to see each of these saints amass a large following, and amidst them were several famous and materialistically successful people. It is these folk that became the true evangelists for these saints, to whom they give the bulk of their donations.
So when Ma asked me to come forward, I was elated at the privilege, yet matter-of-fact about the honour. People knew of me, the world-renowned actress, more than they knew of Ma. Of course she would pick me from the crowd and of course, she would want to learn from me.
I followed Ma and her assistants into the prayer hall. There in the centre of the room was a fountain. Around it was a winding waterway that meandered around, forming a serpentine-like formation. A waterfall slid over a rock face that made up one wall of the great hall.
“Come, child, it is a special night, help me prepare the lamp,” said Ma.
“Special night? Oh I see, thank you Ma, that is very kind of you,” I replied, trying to sound modest. Of course it would be a special night. It was not often that fame graced a modest ashram. I looked up to see Ma smile.
As we reached the fountain, several of her assistants came in with trays and placed them on the ground. Ma sat on the floor and motioned for me to sit beside her. As I moved to her side, I watched as more women arrived with trays, placing them besides the ones they had already put down.
“What would you like to be, the lamp, the wick or the oil?” Ma asked.
“I do not understand,” I replied.
“We are preparing the lamps for tonight. Everyone will help by adding that which represents them best,” Ma clarified and then added, “I see confusion. What does it take, my child, to make a ‘diya’. The lamp, the wick and the oil! If you think your life is like a lamp, then decorate these earthen lamps, if your life has been like a wick, roll this cotton into slender wicks and if your past resembles the oil, take this jug and pour the oil into the painted lamps.”
“How do I know which item represents me best, Ma?” I questioned.
“Ah, I see that some things are not taught in the celluloid world,” she said, smiling. “Come, we will learn together.”
We sat down and Ma picked up an earthen lamp. With the colour yellow made from turmeric paste, she painted dots along its entire rim.
“Here take this lamp, a vessel made for our convenience, so that it can hold that which is put in it. It is made of earth, air and water and represents us. It has great capacity to hold and imbibe that which is put in and it has the strength to let burn without being burnt. It is the Karmayogi,” she explained.
I looked at the lamp in Ma’s hand and then back at her, “Ah Ma, it represents us,” I whispered.
“Yes, child, it is our body,” she confirmed.
Then, pinching apart a small ball of cotton, she rolled it between her fingers, transforming it into a slender thread.
“This ‘bati’ is made from the softest of things. It twists and merges to form a strong twine. It thirsts for knowledge, it hopes for direction. It knows its purpose. It is the Dharmayogi,” Ma stated.
“Ah I see Ma, it is our mind,” I marvelled at my own intelligence.
“Yes, it is the Dharmayogi who wanders through life burning fiercely for knowledge and is ever-thirsty for answers,” she replied
Then Ma picked up the pitcher and poured the oil. I watched as the wick absorbed the liquid until saturated, it could absorb no more.
“Fuel, the power behind every action; the strength behind every deed. It is the source sought by all. The final part, that unites and completes. It is the Purnayogi,” saying this, Ma handed me the lamp.
As I continued to frown, she proceeded with the words, “Child, it is your soul. It is that which connects and that which empowers. It is that which enlightens and that which liberates. It is your powerhouse.”
“Ah Ma, I see now, the lamp is man, useless until the mind and soul unite to enlighten,” I said.
“Yes my child, did I not say, I have much to learn from you?” Ma smiled.
I knew by now, the game Ma had just played. From the teacher I had become the taught. Now aware of how Ma worked, I asked, “What is so special about tonight, Ma?” Even as I asked, I knew I was no longer the reason.
“It is Deepavali, my child. The night when good triumphs evil: the evening, darkness is overcome by light. The moment when a nation welcomes back justice, truth and divinity! It is the event that confirms the return of righteousness and gives back the power that once belonged to the Gods,” said Ma passionately.
I looked down, ashamed. Here I was, Bollywood’s leading lady, thinking I was the centre of the night, when all I really was or would ever be, was another spark of the mighty flame, who Ma was uniting with its source.
When I looked up, Ma held three items in her hand – the lamp, the wick and the oil.