Diwali Festivities Light Up November 3

Written by Kirit C. Daftary
November 1, 2013

One of the biggest festivals in India, Diwali, begins November 3. Similarly important as Christmas in the United States, celebrations will be held by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains in and outside of India. Globally, Diwali is observed by both religious and nonreligious, as well as by other religious communities celebrating the joyous season in secular ways.Observing the official holiday in India falls this year on November third because it is the fifteenth day of the Katrina month on the Hindu calendar.

Happy Diwali, the Festival of Light

Diwali means the “Festival of Lights,” and each religion tells its own Diwali story.

Hinduism – One of India’s major religious groups, Hindus, celebrate a story beginning approximately 900,000 years ago. Shri Rama, who was to become the king, was sent away to a forest so that his brother could become king. Shri Rama’s wife, Seta, and brother, Layman, followed him. But during this time, the demon Ravan abducts Seta. After winning at battle with Ravan, Shri Rama returns to Ayodhya with Seta after fourteen years. The people of Ayodhya welcomed him by decorating their homes, and lighting lamps and fire crackers by night. They also distributed sweets and bought gold ornaments to show their happiness. Since then, Diwali is observed by Hindus on this day.
Sikhism – Two percent of Indians, Sikhs, honor the sixth Sikh Guru Hargobind Sahib, along with 52 kings, who was released from prison on Diwali by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir. When Guru Hargobind Sahib arrived at the Golden temple in Amritsar, his devotees lit lamps celebrating his release.
Jainism – A minority Indian religious group, Jains comprise approximately 0.4% of the India’s population. Their observance dates some 2,539 years ago, when Lord Mahavir, the 24th Tirthankar (who established the rituals of Jainism as practiced today_ attained Moksha, the liberation from the endless cycle of life and death. There is no more birth to experience; one enjoys bliss forever in Siddhalok, the place at the top of the universe. Jains celebrate this day by lighting lamps to dispel inner darkness. They also observe a fast from Sunrise to next day’s Sunrise. Jains drink only boiled water from sunrise to sunset during their fast without taking any solid or liquid food. Jains do not light fire crackers because that will kill many insects and could take the lives of birds or other creatures, since Jains believe in nonviolence.

Diwali is a joyous moment for everyone. Observers often buy gold and gold jewelry to show signs of prosperity and to welcome Laxmi, the Goddess of money, to their homes. Bonuses and sweets are distributed by businesses to workers and agents. Everyone gathers to share sweets. Banks, government offices and schools take longer holidays. The day after Diwali begins a new Calendar year for Hindus and Jains. For Hindus the new year will be Vikram Samvat 2070, the calendar established by emperor Vikramaditya. For Jains the new year will be Veer Samvat 2540, based on the Nirvana anniversary of the Lord Mahavir.
In the United States, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains go to temple to worship and celebrate Diwali. Also, they gather at homes and create a party atmosphere. As many Indians string lights in decoration around their homes, it leads many people think early Christmas decorations are in progress. Neighbors should feel free to knock on the door of an Indian neighbor and wish them “Happy Diwali”. They will appreciate the sincerity and treat visitors to delicious Indian snacks and sweets. “Happy Diwali”
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Kirit C. Daftary is a resident of Waco and practices Jainism. He is trustee of the Council of Parliament of World Religions, Board member of Greater Waco interfaith Council and the past president of JAINA, (Federation of Jain Associations in North America) There are about 150,000 Jains in North America and about 65 Jain Temples in North America.

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