Light is used as a symbol by cultures and religions all over the world, representing goodness, love, truth, knowledge, faith and life itself. In Hinduism, it is particularly celebrated with lamps and fireworks during Diwali, the ‘Festival of Lights. It is also a central feature in Christian rituals, and has become an expressive medium for many Western European artists.
Pentecost represents the twelve apostles gathered together after Christ’s Ascension into Heaven. The Holy Spirit is shown descending on them in the form of a dove and tongues of fire, granting them the power to speak in many languages (Acts 2: 3). In the foreground, men from different nations marvel at hearing the apostles’ words in their own language.
These 12 men, the closest followers of Jesus Christ, are experiencing a momentous event: as Jesus had promised, the light of the Holy Spirit is entering their bodies and giving them the power to speak in many different languages. The men see “tongues of fire” above their heads, while rays of light stream down from a small white dove. People of different nationalities standing nearby are shocked to find that they can all understand what the men are saying–one man raises his fingers to his cheek in a gesture of surprise.
The National Gallery, London, UK, is a wonderful resource and this is part of the trail “Festival of Light”. The text is also printed in the link in Hindi and Gujarati. It draws parallels and unites the Hindu and Judeo-Christian symbol of light.
“Walk in the light of your fire, and in the sparks that you have kindled.” Jewish and Christian: Book of Isaiah
The religious symbol of a burning flame is an ancient one. Agni, the god of fire, is one of the most important Vedic gods and is central to Hindu rites and rituals. In the sacred Upanishads, the soul (or ‘self’, atman) is described as a small flame. Similarly, in Christian scriptures, light is said to burn inside the believer, like a candle inside a temple.
Note: The word “ignite” comes from the Sanskrit agni. The small flame is used a symbol of akhanda jyoti (infinite light, eternal flame) and readers will find it used in the Yoga Nidras on www.mahasriyoga.com/meditation.