New Year: Jains usher in Vira Nirvana Samvat 2541

Large marble statue of man sitting with legs crossed, hands in lap, eyes closed, meditating

A marble depiction of Lord Mahavir in Delhi, India. Jains count the years of this era as having begun with Lord Mahavir’s attainment of moksha (nirvana). Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 24: Jains usher in a New Year!

According to Jain belief, a man named Mahavira attained moksha (nirvana) on Diwali night of 527 B cE. As Mahavira was the 24th and final Tirthankar (person who has conquered the cycle of birth and death) of this portion of our current cosmic time cycle, Jains began counting the calendar year from the date of Mahavira’s attainment. This year, Jains will welcome the year 2541.

On the first day of the New Year, Jains perform Snatra Puja at the temple and offer sweets. Fresh account books are opened, and business accounts from last year have been settled. Vira Nirvana Samvat (era) began with Mahavir’s enlightenment, and Jains also recognize that the chief disciple of Mahavir attained kevala jnana (omniscience, or supreme knowledge) on the morning of the New Year. At the temple today, Jains perform special morning worship.

The Jain calendar is lunisolar—that is, based on the position of the moon in relation to earth, and also adjusted to coincide with the sun.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Diwali: Hindus, Jains and Sikhs mark grand festival of lights

“From untruth lead us to truth. From darkness lead us to light. From death lead us to immortality. Om peace, peace, peace.”
English translation of a Vedic prayer celebrating lights

A cityscape lit up with abundant lights and fireworks in the sky

Diwali lights and fireworks in India. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 23: The worldwide festival of lights launches from India today, in the ancient Hindu celebration of Diwali. In recognition of the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali bears great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. As awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world. And please note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region.

This holiday is so important around the world that, this week, ReadTheSpirit is publishing two columns about Diwali. Our regular holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton reports here; FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis adds more about Diwali—plus a delicious recipe!

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance, so a flurry of pre-Diwali activity can be seen in most cities of India. In a shopping extravaganza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India. At home, surfaces are scrubbed clean, women and children decorate entrances with Rangoli and men string strands of lights. Official celebrations begin two days before Diwali, and end two days after Diwali—spanning a total of five days. (Wikipedia has details.) During this five-day period, the old year closes and a new year is rung in.

Did you know? Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit fusion of dipa (“light,” or “lamp”) and avali (“series,” “line,” or “row”). For Diwali, rows of lamps are lit in homes and temples.

Small lamps in leaf shapes filled with oil and lit with wick on one side

Diya, earthen lamps filled with oil, are lit for Diwali. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In the two days prior to Diwali, celebrants wrap up their shopping, bake sweets and bathe with fragrant oils. On Diwali, excitement builds as evening approaches. While donning new clothing, diyas (earthen lamps, filled with oil) are lit, prayers are offered to deities and many households welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity who is believed to roam the earth on Diwali night. To receive the blessings of Lakshmi tonight means a good year ahead. The night’s extravaganza is a sky ablaze with fireworks. And, families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts. Tonight, the diyas will remain lit through the dark hours.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj, celebrates the sister-brother bond. On Bhai Duj, women and girls gather to perform puja and prayers for the well-being of their brothers, and siblings engage in gift-giving and the sharing of a meal.


Several Hindu schools of philosophy teach the existence of something beyond the physical body and mind: something pure and infinite, known as atman. Diwali revels in the victory of good over evil, in the deeper meaning of higher knowledge dissipating ignorance and hope prevailing over despair. When truth is realized, one can see past ignorance and into the oneness of all things.


On the night of Diwali, Jains celebrate light for yet another reason: to mark the attainment of moksha, or nirvana, by Mahavira. As the final Jain Tirthankar of this era, Mahavira’s attainment is celebrated with much fervor. It’s believed that many gods were present on the night when Mahavira reached moksha, and that their presence illuminated the darkness.

Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and the Hindu kings from Fort Gwalior and arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Today, Bandi Chhor Divas is commemorated with the lighting of the Golden Temple, fireworks and more.


The Festival of Light has turned into a festival of excess pollution and noise in recent decades, and campaigns across India are asking celebrants to be mindful of their choices this Diwali (read more in the Deccan Chronicle). Online, major merchants like Amazon and Snapdeal ran major sales this year as Diwali season approached, and in London, festival-goers are voicing their fears of wearing gold jewelry in the face of growing gold thievery (BBC has the story).

Interested in coloring pages, crafts, printables and a how-to video of the Jai Ho dance? Find it all and more at Activity Village.

Find a kid-friendly approach to teaching about Diwali from National Geographic.

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Categories: Faiths of India

Installation of Sriptures as Guru Granth: Sikhs celebrate final faith guide

Book lying open on red cloth

The Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib. Photo by Gurumustuk Singh, courtesy of Flickr

MONDAY, OCTOBER 20: In the line of esteemed Sikh faith leaders (gurus), the final guru continues to lead the Sikh people today—some four centuries after conception. Today, Sikhs celebrate the Installation of the Scriptures as Guru Granth. On this day in 1708 CE, the 10th Sikh guru announced that following his death, Sikhs should look to the sacred text known as Granth Sahib for guidance. The sacred compilation, which contains words from Sikh, Hindu and Muslim leaders alike, is placed at the center of worship in every Sikh gurdwara (place of worship). The faithful believe the Guru Granth Sahib to be the final and sovereign guru.

With the succession of Sikh gurus in history, it was the fifth—Guru Arjan (1563-1606 CE)—who began compiling writings of the previous gurus and of other great saints of the time. This first edition was known as the Adi Granth. As the years passed, the words of the other gurus were recorded, until the 10th guru added the words of his predecessor and compiled a work known as the Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Today, the Guru Granth Sahib can be seen in every Sikh gurdwara on a revered platform, covered with ornate and delicate fabric.

The Guru Granth Sahib consists of 1,430 pages. (Wikipedia has details.) Among the hymns in this sacred text are descriptions of the qualities of God, the necessity for meditation on God’s name, and the need to live in God’s will.


The Delhi Sikh Gurdwara Management Committee recently made the decision to install printing presses in Europe, Canada and the United States, to aid Sikhs in these areas who need greater ability to reproduce copies of the Guru Granth Sahib. (Learn more from the Times of India and Sikh24.) As the Granth Sahib must be printed and delivered according to per rehat maryada (the Sikh code of religious conduct), the process is carried out with elaborate, traditional measures.

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Categories: Sikh

Turn to the north and wish Canadians a ‘Happy Thanksgiving’

Shopping for pumpkins at an open market in Ottawa. (Photo by Lars Plougmann, released via Wikimedia Commons.)

Shopping for pumpkins at an open market in Ottawa. (Photo by Lars Plougmann, released via Wikimedia Commons.)

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13:  Since 1957, the second Monday in October has been recognized by all Canadian faiths as Thanksgiving Day; the idea of a harvest celebration, however, is centuries old. First Nations of Canada—along with the Native Americans of the Americas—have held festivals of dancing, rituals and harvest activities for centuries.

If you’re planning a harvest-themed dinner with family and friends, you’ll want to check out our own FeedTheSpirit column. This week, Isaac DeLamatre the head of kitchens at Antioch College writes about beets and shares a delicious recipe. Or click here to read a whole series of FeedTheSpirit columns.

In Canada, there are many perspectives on Thanksgiving. CBC News recently published an intriguing interview with a family of blended cultures that now calls its harvest holiday: “You’re Welcome Weekend.”

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Categories: Uncategorized

Columbus Day: West Coast is heart of pro and anti celebrations

Columbus Day parade in San Francisco

This float appeared in an earlier Columbus Day Italian Heritage Parade in San Francisco’s North Beach. The photo was offered for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

MONDAY, OCTOBER 13: All year long, celebrations across the United States reflect the colorful facets of America’s growing cultural diversity. But few holidays expose the friction in U.S. history as much as Columbus Day, which celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in what is now called the Americas in 1492.

For more than a century, the holiday has been championed by Italian-Americans as showcasing their many contributions to the U.S. But some regions of the country now decline to celebrate this national observance, questioning whether Columbus’s arrival is something Native people should celebrate.

Proud Italian-American communities on the East Coast host parades, parties and other events—but San Francisco claims to host the nation’s oldest and biggest Columbus-related bash. In fact, the celebration started several days ago around the Bay Area. (Check out the group’s website.)

The San Francisco-based group claims that in 1869: “San Francisco’s first Columbus Day Celebration marked the first time in America that Italian-Americans gathered and held a parade to honor the accomplishments of Italians, as well as the first Italian-American, Christopher Columbus.”

That first parade “took place in San Francisco’s downtown featuring the bands and marching units of Italian fraternal organizations, including the Garibaldi Guard, Swiss Guards and Lafayette Guards. Four floats were showcased: the first hosted the statue of Christopher Columbus, the second featured two girls representing Isabella of Spain and America, the third depicted the Santa Maria with a sailor dressed as Christopher Columbus; and the fourth honored Italian gardeners featuring their agricultural achievements.”

In nearby Berkeley, California, an alternative celebration, Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day took off in the 1990s. Wikipedia reports a more extensive history of this anti-Columbus Day movement.

This year, that movement is spreading. Headlines nationwide report on a unanimous vote of Seattle’s city council to rename the federal holiday Indigenous People’s Day in their city. National Public Radio reported on the change:

The name change comes after activists pushed for a day to honor indigenous people instead of Christopher Columbus, the most recognizable figure linked to European contact with the Americas. “This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination,” Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant told the Seattle Times. … Seattle isn’t the first place to give the holiday a makeover. Earlier this year, the Minneapolis City Council also renamed Columbus Day Indigenous Peoples’ Day. South Dakota celebrates Native American Day in “remembrance of the great Native American leaders who contributed so much to the history of our state.”

The Seattle Times reports that, while Native American groups are cheering the change, Italian-American groups are disappointed. The Times story includes this item:

In the council chambers Monday, a half-dozen people held Italian flags to demonstrate their support for Columbus Day. Several said they weren’t against an Indigenous Peoples’ Day but felt slighted by the council’s decision to honor Native Americans on the same date as an existing holiday. “Italian Americans are deeply offended,” said Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America and the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce of the Pacific Northwest. “By this resolution you say to all Italian Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.”

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Categories: AnniversaryNational Observances

Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret, Simchat Torah: Jews dwell in huts, restart Torah

You will dwell in booths for seven days; all natives of Israel shall dwell in booths.

Leviticus 23:42

Burlap in background, draped in vines of sunflowers with pumpkins, haystacks in front and Sukka sign to the right

Photo by Oliver Hammond, courtesy of Flickr

TO INTRODUCE our coverage of Sukkot, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes back author and Jewish scholar Joe Lewis as well as our regular Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton. In addition to this column, you’ll enjoy these other stories:




No festival in the Jewish calendar requires more gear than this seven-eight-nine-day shackfest. We need an etrog (which looks like a lumpy lemon); the romantic lore praising the fragrance and beauty of this fruit, and the religious obligation to enjoy this festival, raise the price of an etrog to heavenly heights. We also need palm, myrtle and willow branches. Gathering these four types of plants is the easy part. Daily synagogue services include processions with our plants.

At home, parents suddenly become d-i-yers, and ramshackle huts roofed with greenery sprout in the back yard or on the patio. It’s a “sukkah” (shelter) designed as a substitute for our regular house, a place to take meals and relax on the holiday; in warmer climes the family can camp overnight. Detailed rules govern the shacks, huts or “tabernacles,” but there’s still freedom for creativity in size, shape and materials.

Temporary dwellings remind us of our 40-year trek through the wilderness, protected and sustained by our compassionate God. In ancient times, harvest workers slept outside by their work, as we read in the Book of Ruth (3:6-15). Our huts remind us that our own existence is fragile; that the protections we build for ourselves can be swept away in a storm; and that too many people in our society lack a home of their own. Gazing at stars through chinks in the roof promotes awe and humility, for we are but momentary specks in a universe of untold extent in time and space.


The first part of the holiday is “Sukkot,” shelters, and lasts for seven days. On the eighth day, Shemini Atzeret, “the concluding eighth day” (Num 29:35), we no longer need our four types of plants or our temporary shelter.

The ninth day is the final day of our festival season. It’s called Simchat Torah, a party to celebrate the Five Books of Moses, our manual for effective living. We finish the annual cycle of readings and begin anew, reading the final portion of Deuteronomy and then the first chapters of Genesis, accompanied by all the “disorder, laughing, sporting, and … confusion” that disturbed the famous diarist Samuel Pepys when he visited a London synagogue on October 14 1663. Dancing in the synagogue sometimes spills on to the streets, as we share our joy with the community in which we live.



Dark spice cake with pomegranate seeds on top, on white plate and platter, one piece cut out of cake

Pomegranates are a common ingredient in Sukkot recipes. Photo by Jamieanne, courtesy of Flickr

As Joe Lewis has described, most Jewish families try to take part in the construction of a sukkah—a temporary booth, or structure—in honor of Sukkot, spending as much time as possible inside the dwelling during the festival. The commandment to “dwell” in the sukkah can mean simply eating meals inside of it or fully residing. (Wikipedia has details.)

Each day of Sukkot, a waving ceremony is performed with the four species, or the lulav and etrog. An etrog—a citrus fruit native to Israel—is placed in one hand, while the other hand contains a bound bundle (lulav) of one palm branch, two willow branches and three myrtle branches. A blessing is recited and the species are waved in all directions, to symbolize that G_d is everywhere. The four species are also transported to the synagogue, where they are held, waved and beaten against the floor, during religious services. The four species are also held while forming processions around the bimah (pedestal where the Torah is read), in synagogue.


Immediately following Sukkot is Shemini Atzeret, on which Jews leave their sukkah and dine inside the home. In Israel, Shemini Atzeret is combined with Simchat Torah; in the diaspora, Simchat Torah falls on the day immediately following Shemini Atzeret. (Learn more from Judaism 101.)


On Simchat Torah, literally, “Rejoicing in the Torah,” the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings is complete. On Simchat Torah, the final Torah portion is read and, in a cyclical manner, the first chapter of Genesis is then immediately read. The completion of the cycle is met with great celebration, singing, dancing and the carrying of Torah scrolls.


For many Jews, Sukkot arrives just in time. After the solemn experience of Yom Kippur, the happy gathering of family and friends is a welcome event. Read more about the unity of Sukkot and more from the Jerusalem Post.

A $50,000 penthouse sukkah? Rates are high for a luxury Sukkot at the Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, but the price tag for the 12 private sukkahs comes with everything needed for a four-star holiday: three cooked meals per day for four people for eight days; a personally designed sukkah and plenty of room for entertaining guests. (Read more in the JTA.) For those wishing to spend a little less, the Inbal constructs two enormous sukkahs that can hold up to 600 guests at mealtime.


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Categories: Jewish

Eid al-Adha: Muslims recall Ibrahim’s sacrifice in communal joy

Cow in front, sheep in back, on pasture with mountains in background

In commemoration of Ibrahim’s willingness to sacrifice Ishmael, Muslims slaughter a halal domestic animal for Eid al-Adha. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNSET SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4: As the Hajj continues for 3 million pilgrims in Mecca, Muslims worldwide express joyful appreciation for Ibrahim (Abraham) and his complete willingness to make a sacrifice. Today is Eid al-Adha, the Feast of the Sacrifice. (Dates and spellings vary.) Officially, Eid al-Adha begins after the descent of Mount Arafat by the pilgrims on Hajj in Mecca.

Sometimes called the Greater Eid (the Lesser Eid, Eid ul-Fitr, occurs at the end of Ramadan), Eid al-Adha calls able Muslims to sacrifice a halal animal. Adherents begin Eid al-Adha by dressing in their finest clothing, traveling to a mosque or field, and offering Eid prayers in congregation. (Wikipedia has details.) Following the sermon, it is Islamic custom to exchange joyful greetings, present gifts to children and visit with family and friends. The events of Eid al-Adha last between one and four days, although in some regions, festivities may carry on longer. This year, it has been announced that the United Arab Emirates financial markets will halt trading on Friday, October 3 and resume on Tuesday, October 7, in commemoration of the Eid al-Adha holidays.

The custom of slaying a halal domestic animal for Eid al-Adha is that in doing so, the meat may be divided into three parts: one-third for the family, one-third to be shared with friends and neighbors and another one-third for the poor. By sharing, it is ensured that even the most impoverished person may celebrate Eid. The animal sacrifice—which must meet specific age and quality requirements—may be performed anytime before sunset on the final day of Eid. Families that do not own an animal to slaughter contribute to a charity that will provide meat for the needy. Today, more than 100 million animals are slain during Eid al-Adha for this purpose.

Eid al-Adha activities for kids (plus a great party idea): Young children may not easily grasp the magnitude of Abraham’s sacrifice, but they can begin understanding the basic concepts of Hajj and Eid al-Adha with these recipe and craft ideas, from Pinterest. Feeling more motivated? Try this sheep-themed Eid party, posted at My Halal Kitchen.

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Categories: Muslim