This September we welcomed many new students who came or whose parents came from India and Pakistan. Many are Hindu. I pledged to learn more about the culture and holidays of our students.
I learned that on October 27th or on the 15th day of Kartik, the greatest Hindu holiday of the year begins. This is a five day holiday called Diwali. It is also called the Festival of Lights.
Diwali is different from Western religious holidays in that it is not a celebration of a historical event. It is primarily a celebration of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi and Lord Krishna, who killed the demon Narakasura and defeated the god Indra, who is the Hindu god of thunder and rain. In India, Diwali also occurs every year in the late fall, which puts it right at the natural seam between the dry season and the monsoon season. The holiday is celebrated with gifts, special gifts of sweets, new clothes, and lights and fireworks.
There are five days of Diwali, each one with its own significance. The first day is called Dhanteras and is for gift giving. The second day is called Shhoti Diwali or the “small Diwali” and is marked by demon figures being burned symbolically. On the third day, fireworks are lit and special lamps, called diyas are lit. The fourth day is celebrated because it is thought that Krishna defeated the god Indra on this day . On the fifth and last day, called Bhai Duj, brothers travel to the household of their sisters to renew their bond of love.
Hinduism is a polytheistic religion, which reveres many gods rather than one. This is a major difference between western religions. What I found remarkable, though, is how many similarities exist. At a time of darkness, light is celebrated. The bonds of family are honored. The cycle of nature is reverenced, and giving to others from our bounty is commanded. These themes occur everywhere on our planet.
The holiday of Diwali reminds us to give thanks for our gifts, to give gifts, to look splendid, and celebrate one’s family and friends. The message and hope of Diwali, as for the New Year celebrations in the West, is for health, happiness, and prosperity in the year ahead. It is heartwarming to share this common message of light and love. Happy Diwali!
Much of the information for this post came from Newdsday, 10/27/19.