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24 October 2014

Lightful-backlights-uplight-lighter-searchlight-skylight-overlight-inflight-ultralightweight-unenlightened-slightest-lighterage-floodlight-headlight-flashlight-lightplane-lighting-blight-lightly-fanlight-slighting-flightless-lightwood-superlight-lighthouse-slightly-plight-safelight-stoplight-ultralight-lightship-lightning-droplight-daylight-spaceflight-lightless-lightest-earthlight-lightsome-rushlight-lamplight-lights-lightheaded-twilight-taillight-lighten-flights-light-lightproof-lightface-footlights-relight-flight-candlelight-moonlight-lighttight-topflight-postflight-enlighten-starlight-lighthearted-slight-firelight-featherlight-torchlight-alight-gaslight-lightweight-spotlight-lightfast-streetlight-lightish-penlight-trothplight-lowlight-delight-preflight-jacklight-lightbulb-delightful-lighted-slightness-mislight-enlightenment-flighty-deadlight-lightness-droplights-sunlight-limelight-overflight-delighting-houselights-sidelight, and we bring you a Diwali special Inter-actions to LILAight you with two unexpected reflections. Nandivad Rathnasree refocuses our lenses to give us a clear vision of the night sky, beyond the haze of light pollution. Bhakti Niskama Shanta converges the beams of our vision inwards, highlighting the precedence of inner over outer light.


Hold the cursor on the illustrations to display animations.

Martyrs of the Diwali Skies

Nandivad Rathnasree

The Light of the Soul

Bhakti Niskama Shanta

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Ratnashree dtr-1385-

Laakhon taare aasmaan mein ek magar dhoonde na milaa
Dekh ke duniyaa ki diwaali dil mera chupchaap jalaa …

Sang Mukesh and Lata Mangeshkar, to the words of Shailendra and the music of Shankar Jaikishan, in the film Hariyali aur Rasta.

Well, leaving aside the poignant emotional energies, which were the original intention of the lyricist for this song, a tongue in cheek take would be to look at its literal meaning. And, in fact, therein lies a poignancy – orders of magnitude more than anything interpersonal.

Hundreds of thousands of stars in the sky,
yet, not a single one to be seen…
aaaah, my heart burns silently,
when I see people’s celebrations of Diwali…

This is what we have done. Unasked, Nature had decided to bring some unutterable gladness into our lives, … as it went about sprinkling innumerable stars here and there, … in that inverted dome over our heads!

Yeh Tara Woh Tara Har Tara…
Dekho Jise Bhi Lage Pyara
Yeh Sab Saath Mein, Jo Hain Raat Mein
To Jagmagaya Aasman Sara
Jagmag Taare, Do Taare,
Nau Taare, Sau Taare,
Jagmag Saare
Har Tara Hai Sharara …

quote diwali nr 1

This was the exulting gladness with which nature intended to fill our lives. And … we just wantonly threw away that gladness from our city lives. Oh yes, and we send off a horde of rockets every Diwali, to ensure that whatever little remains also escapes Earth’s gravity and moves as far away as possible from our lives.

From Delhi skies, for instance, it is now just do taare or some mutthi bhar taare that are visible, never sau taare, let alone the few thousands that should be visible.

Before the advent of the modern ‘concretisation’ of cities and the proliferation of unnecessary outdoor lighting, everyone would have had an opportunity to enjoy exhilarating views of the night sky, even from the earlier cities, and get to befriend the stars, if they were so inclined.

It is no longer so, these days, or rather, these nights. We get to see brown murky night skies from Delhi, with, here and there, a handful of stars struggling to be visible through the haze of light pollution choking the city nights. And now, those handful, too, disappear around Diwali.

“Light Pollution? What is that?” would quite likely be a question asked by many. There has not been much of awareness about this issue, in India. We may perhaps be quite unaware, in fact, that some of the worst sites of light pollution, are in India.

Maps of night time lights permit to see how the situation is, worldwide. Here is one, from the United States National Geophysical Data Centre and the Italian Light Pollution Institute, recently updated by David Lorenz, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Lights of the world

We see the eastern United States, Europe and Japan, splashed with an intensity of night lights: at first glance, little do we realise what these interesting looking bright dots on such a map mean in terms of penetrating light pollution, down on the ground. And India does not have a good report card, when it comes to light pollution. After the eastern United States, Europe and Japan, India seems the next major culprit in this domain.

Let us look at a detailed light pollution map of India, overlayed on Google Maps (reproduced with permission from David Lorenz). Each and every city stands out because of its light pollution contributions: there is a continuous bridge of light pollution from New Delhi to Islamabad – no relief anywhere en route!

India’s highways of lights

quote diwali nr 2

We can trace and pick out every city, town, and large village in the country, from its light pollution footprint, here. Presence of air pollutants and aerosols in the atmosphere worsens the situation, as the copious amounts of light that the city vomits out scatter against the air pollutant particles, and come back towards us again. This makes a uniform umbrella of light stand out over a city, making the stars disappear from city skies.

A group of people who love the dark skies is working on a project titled Taare Sadak Par. This programme, co-ordinated by the Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi, is open to all: anyone interested can participate in it.

The programme measures the amount of light pollution by simply counting the number of stars visible from specific regions of the sky. One will need to know the sky a little, in order to do this, but this can be done with the help of star maps.

In the absence of any light pollution, this would be the total number and distribution of stars to be seen in the inverted hemisphere over our heads, from a location like Delhi, on Diwali night:

Sky hemispheres on a clear night…

While all of those stars are just where they are, we do not see most of them and instead the sky appears as something like this:

… and through the Diwali smoke

We might see even less than those handfuls, depending on the intensity of the poisonous effusions that night. Well, there is that gigantic triangle of stars overhead, which should perhaps be still visible through the haze of Diwali light pollution… or not even. On a Diwali evening, one can check whether this triangle is visible. It may not quite be overhead, but a little tilted towards the west, as the evening progresses. Count whether all the three corner stars are visible, as also count (even sketch) any other stars which may be visible inside this triangle. Doing this exercise on Diwali evening and repeating it a week later will benchmark Diwali influences on the sky – See note.

After undertaking this exercise from any city location, try to take some time out to visit any dark, relatively unpolluted site (use this Google Maps light pollution overlay to figure out where to visit ). Make the same star count and you will be bewildered by the large increase in the number of stars in the same region of the sky!

Looking up at the Milky Way from a really dark sky location, and tracing its various dark lanes with just naked eye observations, one feels a personal connection with our home galaxy and its 100 billion stars.

Myriads of twinkling beacons lighting dark night skies have been inspirations for so many inventive minds. All creative spirits invariably turned to the skies as one of their muses. How can we look for such inspiration anymore for all of us city souls? We only need to dip into the well spring of so much that is beautiful in English literature – the works of Shakespeare:

Look how the floor of heaven
Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold:
There’s not the smallest orb which thou behold’st
But in his motion like an angel sings,

And he also tells us:

Such harmony is in immortal souls;
But whilst this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close it in, we cannot hear it.

The same goes for light pollution and all of those negative influences, brought to bear upon this once beautiful alma mater of ours, the planet Earth…


Note: Just mail this information along with sketches, if any (remember to mark relative directions in the sketches) to, giving your exact location and time of observation, and this will form a valuable data point in terms of quantifying light pollution.

Shanta dtr-245-

What is light? Immediately, science seems to be the field to ask. But, in its attempt to know the world as the relationships among forces, atoms, and molecules, modern science leaves no room for the subjective aspect of consciousness. This mechanistic approach created the duality between the experience and the experiencer. Modern science keeps its focus only on what is known. But then, we ignore the knower and the knowing process. For example, without the functional eye of a conscious experiencer, there cannot be an experience of light. But the power of experiencing light is not within the eye alone. Without a mind, without an experiencer being mindful of the object of the eye, one cannot experience the things we see.


The miracle of abiogenesis

All our theories in modern science cannot explain fully how an individual really attains an experience of things. Darwin and the proponents of abiogenesis claimed that life, first, came from matter. They argue that because the body of living organisms is made up of matter, then life must have originated from matter. But they are still left to explain how dead matter developed the ability of experiencing things. Without explaining that, all these big claims of science on life and its origin are mere fairytales. My siksha Gurudev (spiritual master) Srila Bhakti Madhava Puri Maharaja, Ph.D. (Serving Director of Bhakti Vedanta Institute, Princeton, NJ, USA) explains,

From the reader’s perspective, a book is composed of alphabetical letters; but the book itself did not originate from these letters. Ultimately it is from the ideas of the author that the letters of the book come to be. In the same way, the molecules of a biological organism are the result, not the origin of life. This is the difference between the order in which we come to know things (ordo cognoscendi) and the order in which something comes to be (ordo essendi).

quote diwali bns 1

We can artificially design robots but we cannot provide them with an ability to experience things. Living organisms are endowed with thinking, feeling and willing. These abilities cannot be manufactured by complex mechanical and chemical manipulations. So, as we celebrate light once again, let us realise that it cannot be just an independent mechanical phenomenon of electrons or a physical form of energy. The physical world that we experience is also an outcome of our own consciousness. The power of light to know things is not within the world. The power of knowing things is coming from the experiencer, from the soul.

In 2005, during my Ph.D. at IIT-Kharagpur, my Gurudev, Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Goswami Maharaja (Dr TD Singh, Founding Director of Bhaktivedanta Institute) came for a unique conference, “Aging and Dying” and delivered an enlightening lecture as the chief guest of the event. According to biology, life is a mere accumulation of atoms and molecules. Following that vision, for instance, euthanasia is acceptable; we may kill an individual (especially when he/she is old and no longer useful to the society). And indeed, we are doing so many reactions in the laboratory without any second thought, but when it comes to applying those experiments in society, it quickly becomes serious, and dangerous. Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Goswami Maharaja scientifically showed that life is transcendental to matter, and that no one should disrespect life by considering it a mere accumulation of purposeless atoms and molecules. This was for me a great inspiration.

Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Goswami Maharaja

In my entire educational carrier, I never came across any subject that deals with my own self. We study so many things, from subatomic particles to galaxies, but we ignore the study of our own self. And laterality is also lacking – science ignores the study of engineers and engineers ignores the study of scientists. All of us want to do good to ourselves, but, in fact, without a proper self knowledge, we cannot reach that good. Science without the knowledge of the scientist is an incomplete science. My Gurudev said, “When the subject becomes the object of its own study, then spiritual life begins.” By the grace of my Gurudev, I could begin this journey from darkness towards light.

Only studying DNA, RNA, enzymes, proteins and so on will not give us a clear idea about life. The Srimad Bhagavad Gita explains that consciousness is the symptom of the existence of the soul. Evidence from molecular biology and cellular biology forced biologists to acknowledge that from the smallest cells (say bacteria) to the human beings, all life forms are cognitive entities. Therefore, modern science (and especially biology) is moving towards a spiritual direction. This ‘spiritual biology’ is one of the main themes of our upcoming second international conference Science and Scientist – 2014.

Life is a process, and depending on this process, it can be either material or spiritual. Material life means identifying oneself with the body, and hence it follows the process of (1) creation (srusti), (2) maintenance (stithi) and (3) destruction (pralaya). In biology it is known as (1) anabolism, (2) metabolism and (3) catabolism. Due to our ignorance, we live a material life by identifying ourselves with the body, which is in the state of flux of changing matter. However, if we deeply look within ourselves, then we will find that we have a desire within to (1) attain eternity (sat), (2) know (chit) and (3) become happy (ananda). Spiritual life means to attain these three things: eternity, full knowledge and permanent joy. The purpose of a genuine religion is to help an individual to progress from material life towards spiritual life. By following the advice of Vaisnavas, we can overcome the dark ignorance of bodily consciousness or the life of exploitation, and progress towards the light, towards a life of dedication or devotion to Supreme Lord Sri Krishna.

Dipawali is a very popular celebration today. It has a precise meaning in the history of our culture. We celebrate Dipawali in remembrance of Lord Ram’s return to his Kingdom, Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile. But there is a deep underlying spiritual principle within this celebration that people generally do not know. Lord Sri Krishna says in Srimad Bhagavad-Gita 10.11:

tesam evanukampartham, aham ajnana-jam tamah
nasayamy atma-bhava-stho, jnana-dipena bhasvata

Being conquered by the love of those devotees
who in their unalloyed loving devotion
become afflicted by the all-devouring darkness
born of their pangs of separation from Me,
I illuminate their hearts with My presence,
destroying the darkness of their pain of separation.

quote diwali bns 2

After Lord Ram’s exile, the devotees of Ayodhya were feeling deep separation. Being conquered by the love of the devotees of Ayodhya, Lord Ram appeared before them to dispel the darkness born of their pangs of separation. That is why we celebrate Dipawali with light: to remember the union after a long separation. In this context, I would like to illustrate this process of spiritual advancement as realised by the followers of Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Ram returning to Ayodhya

Lord Sri Krishna and Lord Balaram mercifully appeared as two full moons in the form of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Lord Nityananda Prabhu. They aimed at dispelling the dense darkness of ignorance in this dark age of Kali by spreading the cooling light of extreme mercy. In Srimad-Bhagavatam 11.5.32, we find evidence of the advent of Kali-yugaavatar Lord Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates:

krsna-varnam tvisa ‘krsnam sangopangastra-parsadam
yajnaih sankirtana-prayair yajanti hi su-medhasah

In the age of Kali, persons of great piety and intelligence
will worship the Lord as Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
He will appear in a golden form chanting Krishna’s name,
accompanied by His associates and entourage.

Lord Chaitanya appeared along with His eternal associates around 528 years back in Sri Navadwip Dham, West Bengal, and established the congregational chanting or Sankirtan, as the universal religion for this age of Kali. Lord Nityananda Prabhu appeared in Rada-desa, Birbhum District, West Bengal, India. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu predicted that His cooling light of extreme mercy would spread to every town and village.

Nandivad Rathnasree is an astrophysician and the Director of the Nehru Planetarium, New Delhi. For the last fifteen years, she has been an astronomy educator, interacting with students and amateur astronomers. Through the Jantar Mantar Calibration Work, she contributed to demonstrating the accuracy of Jantar Mantar observation instruments, in Delhi and Jaipur. She has also published a number of research papers in referred journals of astrophysics, and she regularly works for the popularisation of astronomy through articles, radio and TV talks on popular science.
Bhakti Niskama Shanta is a scientist serving as General Secretary in the Sri Chaitanya Saraswat Institute, Siliguri, West Bengal. A graduate in Mechanical Engineering and a Doctor in Coastal Hydrodynamics, he met his master Srila Bhaktisvarupa Damodara Goswami Maharaja (Dr. T.D. Singh) during his Ph.D and went on exploring and discussing science outside of the university. He focuses on the questions of consciousness, and the origin of matter, life, and the universe.

Disclaimers: The opinions expressed by the writers are their own. They do not represent their institutions’ view.
LILA Inter-actions will not be responsible for the views presented.
The images and the videos used are only intended to provide multiple perspectives on the fields under discussion.

Images and videos courtesy: Tobaal | United States National Geophysical Data Centre, Light Pollution Institute & David Lorenz 1 & 2 | Nehru Planetarium Delhi 1 & 2 | Evolution of Truth | Bhaktiswarupa Damodara | Hariharji

Voice courtesy: Samuel Buchoul

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