Diwali: The Festival of Lights

By, Rani Balakrishna

On Thursday, October 19 it was Day 1, yes, but it was also Diwali (dih-vah-lee), the Festival of Lights and the Hindu New Year. Also called Deepavali, Diwali is a major Indian and Nepalese holiday that is celebrated by many Hindus, Sikhs and Jains worldwide. Its exact date is determined each year by the lunar calendar. In many cultures and religions, Diwali celebrates the victory of good over em0zzvil. Certain gods and goddesses, such as Lord Ganesha and the Goddess Lakshmi, are worshipped at Diwali through traditional ceremonies, or pujas. There are different interpretations for Diwali across India and Asia based on region and religion.

The North Indian story behind Diwali is the homecoming of the exiled Prince Rama (incarnate of Lord Vishnu), after defeating the evil ten-headed demon Ravana in a great war. The people of Ayodhya lit diyas, or lamps, to welcome Rama home from a fourteen year exile. In South India, they celebrate Lord Krishna killing the demon Narakasura, and in Jainism they celebrate the nirvana of Lord Mahavira. Diwali is a unique holiday because it unites all of India, no matter what people celebrate it for. In my family we did a puja for Diwali and gathered with family at my grandmother’s house to celebrate and receive gifts. In India, and abroad, you will see decorations, fireworks, rangoli (art designs), and many lights and sweets.

AsIAm discussed the lack of representation of Diwali on calendars and cards, despite Hinduism being the fourth largest religion in the world. In 2016, the US Postal Service introduced a Diwali postage stamp, but there is still a lot more ground to cover. Winsor does not address the holiday, and many of students were not aware it was Diwali. One Winsor student says that “there’s not much consideration for Diwali at Winsor. . . It’s hard to address but it’s important that Winsor talks about it, because these holidays apply to everyone, not just Hindus and Indians.” An assembly or even a themed lunch is something easily within reach that does not require extensive planning. Another Winsor student also said that “there is little to no recognition for Diwali at Winsor, and it would be nice to acknowledge it like other major holidays.” Winsor should acknowledge Diwali as a religiously important holiday and use it as an opportunity to learn about Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism. Any acknowledgement would be a step forward and appreciated by many members of the community.