It symbolises hope, light and happiness. The Indian festival of lights, Diwali, is dominated by brightness of occasion and thought, attributes that are close to the hearts of all peoples.

Each year in October or November, the festival of Diwali is celebrated with great gusto in India. Known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali symbolises the victory of good over evil.

When we think of light, there are many forms of it that come to mind: from a fluorescent tube to a lamp, a candle to an earthen lamp, a ray of the sun to a pool of dawn, from strobelights to floodlights ... some even find their hearts all lit up when epiphany strikes.

Beyond the physical realm it could be a form of light that drives away the inner darkness. It could be a ray of sun that shines into our homes and into our minds bringing with it hope. It could be someone coming to your rescue during times when your mind goes dark.

Then there are people who seem to be wearing brightness like it were an outer garment. They radiate happiness and it is contagious. They give off a sense of being content that somehow stills your seething mind for a while.

For each of us, the word light holds a different meaning. For some, it's a physical phenomenon – the sun shines and it's light all around. It sets, you throw on a switch and darkness is dispelled.

For others, light goes beyond the physical. It's about having a bright outlook on life, it's about positivism, gratitude, humility, generosity ... So much is contained in this one word.

In fact proverbs, sayings, aphorisms ... every culture has its favourites, timeless treasures which act as beacons guiding home ships that have been sailing the seas for a long time and simply need to drop anchor and head home.

Consciously or unconsciously, these sayings, metaphors, proverbs dwell on in the mind well past the day they were said and one day, some day, their real import floods our mind like a door thrown open to a summer's day just when it was getting too gloomy within.

Light … across a nation

Like much of Africa, South Africa has its own particular brand of sunlight.

As South African Gertjan Yspeert rightly puts it, "We are known as a rainbow, sunshine, rugby and braai [barbeque] nation! More so after clinching the Rugby World Cup!

"The point being that we love light in terms of sunshine. We love being outside, our world is out in the sun, so that way, light is an integral, inseparable part of all South Africans all over the world. For us, light means life, a lot of activity and a good state of things. We live in the day, for the day."

For Yspeert, sunlight channels energy and inspires him to get out and do things. "Light is capable of creating different emotions at different times. By just varying the degree of light, one's perspective can change. Different types of lighting help me to deal with the different moods I'm in."

Light … everlasting

So while people think of light as bringing hope and goodness, there are also those like Zimbabwean Juliet Ziswa, who ensures that light stays with her all the time.

How exactly does she do that? Well, By naming her daughter Chiedza, which means light in her native tongue, Shona. Ziswa says the name is quite popular in her homeland. Many people name their babies during dire circumstances, when the birth of a child provides a ray of hope.

"We associate everything evil with everything dark. There is [a saying] Mabasa erima, which when translated means the work of the dark. The belief about darkness bringing out the bad is so strong that all our traditional and important ceremonies are conducted at dawn or during the day because we believe that it is better to do these things when the day is still young since a lot of good comes out of light."

Ziswa associates light with the sun, so that when the sun comes out, good news comes with it.

For Meenakshi Madhavan, from Tamil Nadu, India, based in Dubai, one proverb that has taken up permanent residence in her mind is "Roshni andhkar ko mitati hai" (Light drives away darkness). She read this long ago and finds it really holds true.

"In life, things don't always go your way, whether you like it or not – that's how it is for everyone," she says. "It is at such times – when you don't get what you want, when all your inner positivity gets blanketed by negative thoughts and deeds, when you are in a freefall in mental abyss – that I feel such a saying can be like a giant hand that reaches out and pulls you back to sanity. It can help you tell yourself that this too shall pass."

She and her husband have tried to teach their 12-year-old son, Ganesh, this notion of light by way of examples.

"Light symbolises positive energy and just seeing light itself brings a lot of inner peace," says Madhavan. "Looking at a lit lamp or candle brings me happiness, strength and hope."

Light … it drives away darkness

For Sangeeta Walambe, light in any form provides a source of inspiration. Walambe says she finds it essential to have light around her as it comforts and soothes her.

She can completely relate to the saying, 'Every cloud has a silver lining'. "From the time I heard it, it has been a proverb I use very often. This is also what I keep telling my daughter as she is too sensitive and gets upset easily over the smallest of things."

Walambe recounts one such incident, when the family had to move to Bahrain from the UAE.

"Initially it was difficult for us to think of moving out but I took it as an opportunity to live and experience a new country. That's exactly what I tried to explain to my daughter, who was 15 at that time.

Her first reaction was negative and she seemed quite upset … I tried to explain to her that there must be a good reason behind our move and we cannot know what [that is] until we go take the step. 'Who knows, we might even get a chance to come back,' I told her. And that is what happened. We came to Dubai after just a year and a half in Bahrain. That was six years ago and things are as good as ever."

Light … a sign of good news

For Bibi Aeysha Faisal Abdalla, from Mauritius, light is a way of connecting with people. The PhD student explains that in her culture, light is attributed to someone who helps you remember something, something good. On the other hand, darkness is associated with bad events, the negatives in one's life.

"Light and sunshine always bring good news to people whereas dark weather will bring something bad with it," says Aeysha. "This is my belief. It may be having no real foundation but this is what we, superstitious human beings, believe."

While light symbolises inspiration for many people, it has other connotations, depending on the kind of circumstances that one is in.

Light … at the end of the tunnel

Manish Mehra, a director at Unilever Arabia, Dubai, says light is associated with a range of things – including hope.

Mehra, from India, says everyone goes through difficult times but the thing that keeps them going is the unflinching faith that nothing is impossible and there's always a glimmer of hope that things will change for the better. "There have been instances where people have given up hope, yet things have turned around for the better," he says.

Mehra recounts an incident when his uncle discovered that he had cancer. "The doctors told him he had less than three months to live. Everyone had given up on him, thinking it was impossible for anyone to have any chances of recovering. But my uncle was the sort who wouldn't give up easily. He did all that was possible to ensure that he could get better and today, some seven or eight years later, he is as good as anyone his age! Not only is he fit, he goes to work daily and leads a normal life.

"This happened because of his belief that things can't be just over, because of his willpower to live on and get things happen his way."

Light … a symbol of hope

For 21-year-old university student Samyukta Shenoy, light symbolises everything good. "Light for me is being hopeful or looking at the goodness in someone," she says. "Not just that, even sunlight has its effect on me. Dark and cloudy days make me feel gloomy, but a bright and sunny day is what brings out the cheery me.

"I had once read this quote by Oprah Winfrey: 'Let your light shine. Shine within you so that it can shine on someone else. Let your light shine.' And I really love what it means and conveys. The way I am and the way my parents are, I have come to believe that one should be the best person one can, and not try to hold anything against anyone. My parents have always taught me that if you get an opportunity to help someone, do it since that is the only way you can make your light shine, that is how you let your light shine within you. You should be able to willingly help someone in need and be the best person you can."

Light … throughout the home

Light is also significant when one sets up a home.

"This is what is given a lot of importance in our culture," says Anosh Ahamath, a Sri Lankan Muslim.

He says you must ensure there is ample good, natural light flowing into your house and that light must be given utmost importance when you are planning to move into a new house.

"For us, light represents hope, good fortune and prosperity. Even when we step out of the house after dark, we ensure that there is at least some light switched on, since darkness represents negativity. This [belief] is prevalent not only in the place where I come from, but from what I understand, it's popular among a lot of South Asians."

Ahamath ensures there's always plenty of light around him at his workplace. But he says his wife is responsible for the natural lighting in their house. She arranges things to ensure that there are no dark corners, because she also believes that light brings a positive energy into the house.

When such commonalities exist in people across the world, it seems the ray of hope will always find a door or a window or even a chink in a thatched roof, to shine through. Now that's a solar-powered thought!