(The following article was posted in the "Inner Voice" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 3 May 2004.)
OVER THE course of a life, the earth is covered in darkness about half the time. Sadhus speak of 'the light' as if all heavenly kingdoms are devoid of darkness, so we envision the heavens as always light.
Sanskritists frequently encounter words like Svaysmjyothi, sva-roth, sva-drik, atma-prakasadam, sva-rochisham and sva-prakashaha, referring to 'self-effulgence'. Perennial light rays are said to emanate from the body of Vishnu; that and these form the blueness of the sky. Sky blue, not fully elucidated by modern science, is explained as a phenomenon of light rays. The halos we see depicted around the heads of Christ and Christian saints are part of the 'effulgence principle'.
Today, many prefer to call heaven 'outer space', but such space is always dark except for tiny dots of light. For others, heaven or svarga is described as always light, with wispy clouds underfoot or faint vapour spiralling upward but never blocking the light.
Crime mostly takes place after sunset, confirming the notion that absence of light and evil are connected. Shadows, subterfuge and sorcery are the stuff of nocturnal exploits. And, there is the Devil in Christian parlance, or the 'dark side of the force' in the movie Star Wars.
But the shastros say the light of the spheres is not a magical fairyland with continuous illumination, but a natural glow, emanating from God Himself and self-effulgent personalities serving Him. Their brightness is measured, they say, by personal presence, not candlepower or wattage.
There is a description in the Bhagavata wherein the faces of the liberated kings of Hastinapur (Delhi) looked like stars. Unlike material charisma, faces that shine like stars have pure hearts. Usually invisible, their divine radiance creates light even in the midst of pervasive evil.
The writer is emeritus memb?r of the lSKCON governing body commission.