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

Girl poses with candle-lit bowls of oil

A girl with diya lamps lit for Diwali. Photo by Partha Sarathi Sahana, courtesy of Flickr

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 19: The ancient Hindu celebration of Diwali—a global festival of lights—launches from India today. In acknowledgment of and gratitude for the triumph of light over darkness, Diwali holds great significance for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs alike. As awareness of Indian culture spreads, major celebrations now are hosted around the world. (Note: Dates and spellings of Diwali vary by country and region.)

Preparations for Diwali begin weeks in advance: In a shopping bonanza comparable to the Western Christmas season, gold jewelry, fine clothing, sweet treats and household goods fly off racks in marketplaces across India, while 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. 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 dipa (“light,” or “lamp”) and avali (“series,” “line” or “row”). For Diwali, rows of earthen lamps—filled with oil—are lit in homes and temples.

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) 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 on this night means a good year ahead. On Diwali evening, families gather for a feast of sweets and desserts and the sky is ablaze with fireworks. Tonight, the diyas will remain lit through the dark hours.

News from Delhi, 2017: In efforts toward a smoke- and noise-free Diwali, the sale of fireworks has been banned in Delhi and the National Capital Region (NCR) this year. Read the story in the Times of India.

The day following Diwali is Padwa, honoring the mutual love between husbands and wives. The next day, Bhai Duj (also spelled Bhai Dooj) 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.

DIWALI, MAHAVIRA & BANDI CHHOR DIVAS

For Jains: 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. Today, many Jains fast, meditate on Mahavira and chant this Tirthankar’s words during Diwali.

For Sikhs: Sikhs mark the Bandi Chhor Divas on Diwali, when Guru Har Gobind Ji freed himself and 52 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. For some Sikhs, Diwali also is a time to remember the martyrdom of Sikh scholar Bhai Mani Singh in 1737, and the eventual establishment of the Khalsa rule.

EXTRAS

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

Access recipes, poems, wallpapers and more at DiwaliFestival.org.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Hindu

Mahavir Jayanti: Jains honor final Tirthankar, meditate, teach non-violence

Jain temple with elaborate gardens in front of busy Indian landscape, lots of buildings in back

A jain temple in Calcutta. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

TUESDAY, APRIL 19: A national holiday previously slotted for April 20 has recently been moved to today, Indian news sources report, as Jains arrive at one of the most significant days of their calendar year: Mahavir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the final and most important Tirthankar, Mahavira.

In the Jain faith, each cycle of time—according to the laws of nature—gives birth to 24 Tirthankars, or souls that have attained ultimate purity and possess divine power. These Tirthankars were fully human, but achieved enlightenment through meditation and self-realization.

Today, Jains visit colorfully decorated temples, perform religious rituals and prayer and ceremonially bathe statues of Mahavira. As Jainism focuses heavily on meditation and the path of virtue, many Jains spend Mahavir Jayanti contemplating and then living out the virtuous path, by performing acts of charity.

MAHAVIRA: THE LEGEND AND THE MAN

According to texts, Mahavira was born the son of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, in 599 BCE. While pregnant with Mahavira, Queen Trishala had a series of dreams about her unborn child—dreams that, astrologers revealed, meant that she would give birth to either an emperor or a Tirthankar.

From an early age, Mahavira was interested in Jainism and meditation. By age 30, he was an ascetic who spent more than 10 years seeking spiritual truth. From that point, Mahavira preached on non-violence and righteousness until his death. He spoke of karma, and of the cycles of life and death.

Historically, Mahavira laid the foundation for the religion that is now Jainism.

NEWS: SIKHS IN TIMES SQUARE

Thousands of Sikhs and other community members recently gathered in Times Square, in an event for the holiday of Vaisakhi. (Economic Times has the story.) The event sought to educate non-Sikhs on the Sikh religion, as the group has experienced recent hate crimes. Some dubbed the day “Turban Day,” as the Sikhs handed out turbans and tied them on the heads of interested tourists and onlookers.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Faiths of IndiaSikh

Mahavir Jayanti: Jains honor the life of Mahavir and promote non-violence

Elaborate white temple with several pillars on street in India

The Shri Mahavirji Temple of Karauli, Rajasthan, in India, devoted to Mahavira. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

THURSDAY, APRIL 2: The most significant holiday of the year arrives for Jains with Mahavir Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the final Tirthankar, Mahavira. (In the Jain religion, each cycle of time, according to the laws of nature, gives birth to 24 Tirthanars. Though not an incarnation of God, a Tirthankar is a soul that has attained ultimate purity and possesses divine power.)

On Mahavir Jayanti, Jains visit elaborately decorated temples for religious rituals, prayer, and ceremonial baths of Mahavira statues. Many Jains spend this holiday meditating on the path of virtue defined by Jain teachings, and live out that path by acting in charity. (Learn more about Jain doctrine at JainWorld.com.) In India, Mahavir Jayanti is a national holiday.

BIRTH LEGEND AND LIFE OF MAHAVIRA

Jain belief holds that Mahavira was born the son of King Siddhartha and Queen Trishala, in 599 BCE. While pregnant, Queen Trishala experienced a series of dreams about her unborn child, and astrologers revealed that she would give birth to either an emperor or a Tirthankar.

While young, Mahavira developed an interest in Jainism and began meditating. By age 30, he was an ascetic who spent more than a decade seeking spiritual truth. Mahavira spent the remainder of his life preaching non-violence and righteousness. (Wikipedia has details.) Mahavira spoke widely of the importance of karma, indicating that an accumulation of bad karma leads to suffering, confusion and continued cycles of life and death.

IN THE NEWS:
HOLIDAYS IN INDIA & A VEGAN YOUTH RALLY

Christians worldwide are gearing up for the Easter Triduum and Easter, but in India, a jam-packed week of holidays is also on the agenda. Experts are voicing fears for potential disruptions in stock market transactions, exports and shipments, as banks close for 7.5 of 9 days. (Business Standard reported.) This week in India brings the national observances of Ramanavami, Mahavir Jayanti, Good Friday and two annual days of closing, along with the regular closing on Sundays.

In Jaipur, a Jain youth organization will hold a rally promoting vegetarianism on April 2, as part of the week-long Mahavir Jayanti festival. The purpose of the rally is to raise awareness of eating ethically and non-violently. Devout Jains follow a vegan diet without root vegetables—so as not to kill the insects and bacteria living on the roots—and some eat before sunset, to avoid harming any insects that might be attracted to artificial light after dark.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Jain

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.

ATMAN, HIGHER KNOWLEDGE

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.

DIWALI AMONG JAINS AND SIKHS

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.

NEWS AND EXTRAS:
POLLUTION CAMPAIGNS,
GOLD THEFT IN LONDON

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.

Comments: (0)
Categories: Faiths of India