Friday, October 16, 2009

Happy Diwali

VS sends along a few paragraphs on Diwali, taken from

Diwali is one of the Indian festivals celebrated all over India, with equal enthusiasm and zeal. The word 'Diwali' is the abbreviation of the Sanskrit word 'Deepavali', which means 'rows of lights'. One of the major Hindu festivals, it is celebrated to commemorate the victory of good over the evil, when Lord Rama defeated Ravana and rescued his wife Sita from his custody. It is predominantly a five-day festival, with a number of customs and rituals followed during each day. People prepare themselves for the festival weeks ahead, by cleaning and decorating their premises.

The main festival day falls on the no-moon day of the dark half of Kartik, according to the Hindu lunar calendar. Celebrated with vigor and gaiety by people of every religion, the magical effect of Diwali creates an atmosphere of joy and festivity. Innumerable lamps are lit on the roofs and windowsills of the houses, thus, giving a divine look to the whole scenario. It is said that Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, roams the earth on this day and enters the house that is pure, clean and brightly illuminated. Therefore, people, before exchanging gifts and bursting crackers, offer prayers to the deity.

Young and old, men and women, all dress up in new clothes on this day to illuminate their home with diyas. The deities of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are worshipped on Diwali, after which, the people share sweets and gifts with their relatives and friends. Fireworks, which attract the kids the most, form the highlight of the festival. The festive mood extends to the couple of days following the main day of the festival. Deepawali symbolizes the victory of righteousness and the lifting of spiritual darkness. It is the celebration of victory of good over evil - and the glory of light.

Diwali 2009

Diwali falls on a new moon day in the month of October or November. Since the precise moment of the new moon falls on different dates depending on geographical location, the date of Diwali also depends on one's location. In 2009, Diwali will be celebrated on 17th October.

For the first time, even the President of the US is marking the occasion. As the Washington Post's On Faith blog reports:

Obama Lights White House Diwali Lamp

The Dow Jones reached a significant milestone yesterday, and news outlets were abuzz with excitement. Olympia Snowe's vote for the Baucus bill was plenty fodder for the 24-hour news cycles. But, for Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists in the United States, an epochal event transpired at the White House afternoon that should not slip notice.

Lead me from Untruth to Truth.
Lead me from darkness to light.
Lead me from death to immortality.
(from the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad -- I.iii.28)

As the ethereal sounds of a Hindu priest's chanting of this Sanskrit prayer from ancient Hindu scripture filled the East Room, President Obama lit the ceremonial White House diya --and he used this Sanskrit word for lamp--with dozens of Asian, Indian and Hindu Americans in attendance. Never before had a sitting U.S. President personally celebrated the Diwali holiday, and with that one gesture, two million Hindu Americans felt a bit more like they belonged--one more reason to feel at home. Maybe that cliche' that all of our diversity adds unique patches to the American quilt is not as tired as we thought.

Diwali is among the most widely celebrated festivals in India and spans all of the Dharmic religious traditions. Rows of diyas, or earthen lamps, line the homes of celebrants as prayers are offered, and for many, a New Year on Hindu calendars is marked. For the seeker, the spiritual significance is clear: the lamps symbolize the quest for knowledge and goodness that mimics the inner Divine and eradicates the darkness of ignorance and false values. As the President said in his address, of course, one does not forget the joyous merriment Diwali celebrations entail: fireworks light up the dark skies of a new moon night, gifts are exchanged and sweets savored.


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