It was a bright sunshine day in early summer of over 42 years ago in Madras (now Chennai), when I first sighted these three words blazoned on the coat of arms of the institution to which I entered as an under-graduate. It took a little while for me to ascertain the translation from the college prospectus.
‘Luceat lux vestra’ , Latin for ‘let your light shine’, did not hold more than a passing fancy to me at a time when migrating to the greater freedom of a college from the regimen of school life meant several other matters clamouring for priority attention. It was more than couple of decades later when I was able to get on to a deeper reading of the Bible that I could relate to these words as inspired by the scriptural exhortation “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven” . One’s light shines as one progresses from the darkness of ignorance to the radiance of knowledge, profoundly stated in the vedic mantra ‘tamaso maa jyotir-gamaya’, seeking the blessing of being led from pervading gloom to everlasting light.
What is light? It is a phenomenon taken by us so much for granted that we hardly ever comprehend its infinite value in the grand architecture surrounding us. Shorn of scientific jargon, light is energy and it is nature’s resource to transfer energy through space. In the first half of 19th century, Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell defined light as a propagating wave of electric and magnetic fields travelling at super speed. It is electro-magnetic radiation that makes the sense of sight possible. What we all see, from the entire electro-magnetic spectrum, is just a small portion of light, called visible light or optical light. Light consists of particles called photons; the more the number of photons, the greater the brightness or radiation of energy. The speed of light in a vacuum is nearly 300,000 kms per second and, accordingly, it takes seven minutes for Sun’s light to reach the earth; light takes over four years to reach the nearest star . It would take a particle of light over 100,000 years to travel from one side of our galaxy to the other. The speed of light gets reduced while passing through a medium like the atmosphere, water or a diamond . It travels, for instance, at the slower rate of 124000 kms per second through a diamond. During late 1990s, research has established that the speed of light can be exceptionally reduced to as low as 61 kms per second when it is passed through a certain type of matter. The finite limit of the speed of light becomes apparent to us when it is used as a metric to span the incredibly enormous distances in astronomy, where planets and galaxies are located at distances of several thousands and millions of light years away from one another. These distances boggle the mind when we attempt to figure out a light year as the distance light travels in one year at the rate of about 300,000 kms per second…!
Light is experienced, explored, exploited and interpreted in numerous ways that it defies any attempt at giving a single answer to the question of what is light. While the scientist is interested in the physical properties of light, the artist sees it as a medium for an aesthetic appreciation of the visual world; whereas in a figurative sense, light stands for knowledge. Enabling the sense of sight, light is a primary tool for perceiving and communicating within the world. Light from the sun warms and energizes the earth, drives global weather patterns and initiates the life-sustaining process of photo-synthesis. Energy conveyed by (sun)light to the earth constitutes the fundamental source of all forms of energy that we perceive and experience around us. The fossil fuels, such as natural gas, petroleum and coal, used to power transportation systems and industries, are ultimately stored organic forms of solar energy deposited on the earth through chemical reactions over millions of years .The rest of the cosmos communicates with the earth through electro-magnetic radiation and, interpreting the radiation, astronomers are able to divine various aspects of the universe. Radio, X-rays, alpha/beta/gamma rays, infra-red, ultra-violet, Laser, Holography and Fibre-optic telecommunication systems are few of the types and technological applications of light. Far out in the compact regions of remote galaxies, there are several intensely high energy and luminous forms of light known as quasars, located billions of light years away from the earth; that some of these are visible from the earth, through powerful telescopes of course, speak for their mega power and luminosity. Our own planet could have been a very different place over five billion years ago, may be like a quasar, before formation of the protective, life-enabling ozone layer, whereby organisms started evolving to reach the stage of homo sapiens, progressing and refining through various Ages, civilizations and cultures, apparently advancing to humans claiming center stage in the scheme of things. All these are logical pointers, not merely to the exactitude and precision of the controls governing the cosmos, but also to the fact that light is the primary source and most powerful of all forms of energy.
Light interacts with matter to give shape to the structure of the universe, aligns with rain-scattered water droplets in the air to form vibgyor-hued rainbow in the sky, effects prismatic dispersion through zillions of dust particles in the atmosphere to spread kaleidoscope of colour across the horizon, enhancing the grandeur of the rising and setting sun, that in turn spurs creativity by awakening the muses in poets, artists and musicians.
In theology, divine light is also described as radiance or refulgence. The term light finds various expressions in scriptures as Tabor Light or the light revealed on mount Tabor through transfiguration of Jesus ; light is a metaphor for Christ, derived from many biblical passages as “I am the light of the world, whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”; also as vision, enlightenment and darshan . Light is celebrated by Hindus as diwali, a festival to denote victory of light over darkness . Revealing meaningful dimensions of everything else in the universe, light is wisdom, as wisdom itself is an articulation of light. All actions involving wisdom reflect the true creative aspect of light. Wisdom is always evolving; likewise, all evolution, ranging from a thing or life forms to entire cosmos, is an indispensable phenomenon of light. In other words, without input of light there is no evolution. In this context, the theory propounded by Henryk Skolimowski is unique in its focus on light as the soul of life as well as of philosophy, stating emphatically that there can be neither existence nor wisdom sans light. Truth, goodness, compassion, equity, justice, wisdom, creativity are all virtues of light, and focusing on these will help construct a happy and vibrant world. Skolimowsky further introduces the neologism of cosmocracy, comprehending, in a spirit of accommodation, all objects of the cosmos, to define democracy at the cosmic, rather than global level, to encompass the whole of terrestrial life and the cosmos and its entire evolutionary creativity, following the principles of all-pervading and benevolent light, where all beings exist in perfect equilibrium, harmony, peace and happiness, and as equal entities of cosmic evolution. What a grand and infinite immensity shall we be in the midst of, as stake holders in a cosmocracy, where the unknown space is constantly expanding at such faster clip than light can catch up with. Given such haloed goal to which we may all stretch our mindsets to, will it not be churlish to even consider pigeon-holing our beliefs and systems into exclusively narrow territories manifesting as diverse grouping of over couple of hundred sovereign states that constitute today’s world? Hopefully, humanity may evolve to that stage of oneness with the cosmos, at some point of time in futurity.
So that is where we need to be directing our thinking , to the non-discriminatory , all-inclusive perspective of benevolent light , shining without exception on to a world without barriers, as the supreme light that dispels gloom, clarifies our thoughts, guides our path, powers our working. The very same light that John Newman invoked in his prayer “Lead kindly light, amidst the encircling gloom, / Lead Thou me on! / Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see / The distant scene; one step enough for me…../….Lead, Savior, lead me home in childlike faith, / Home to my God. / To rest forever after earthly strife / In the calm light of everlasting life.”