Over five days, members of the Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism faiths celebrate the festival Diwali by decorating their houses with lights, eating food and spending time with friends and family. The reasons to celebrate are different in each religion, according to Brandeis University, and this year, it is being observed on Oct. 24.
Diwali is the largest festival celebrated in the Hindu faith, according to Community Liaison for the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana Anita Joshi. She said Diwali is derived from the word Deepavali, with “deepa” meaning light and “avali” meaning row, translating to row of lights. Because Hindu festivals are based on the lunar calendar, dates change, and thus this year Diwali is being celebrated on Oct. 24, she said.
Joshi said Diwali is about light dispelling darkness, knowledge dispelling ignorance and good triumphing over evil. She said that there are many reasons for why Diwali is celebrated, with different stories behind each. According to Joshi, in her home country of the northern region of India, one retelling of the story behind Diwali involves a king being exiled from his kingdom for 14 years, before returning after a series of trials. The day that he came back from his exile is now the day that Diwali is celebrated, Joshi said.
“It is the returning of the light to the kingdom, returning of the goodness to the throne, returning of all of the knowledge and kindness that we sort of value in Hinduism,” Joshi said. “The story goes that [the] habitants were so excited to have him back that they lit rows of lamps along all the roads guiding his way home.”
Joshi said Diwali is celebrated over five days, with the first two days spent preparing and decorating the house and cooking food. The last day, often called Bhai Dooj, is about celebrating the love between brothers and sisters, according to Joshi.
“The tradition was the lamps, nowadays, it’s all candles. People often do the same Christmas lights that we use at Christmas time, we put [them] up at the house during Diwali to decorate the house with lights,” Joshi said. “So it’s really about light, it’s not necessarily about just the lamp or the candle or the way the light is given off, it’s about the light itself. Things have modernized, we get electrical lights now for things, electric candles, all kinds of good stuff, so the same ideas.”
She said that Diwali worships the goddess Lakshmi who represents fortune, the goddess Saraswati who represents knowledge and the god Ganesha who represents the remover of obstacles. Members of the Hindu faith worship them to create a positive path forward for the year, Joshi said.
“[Diwali is] important to the Hindu faith for many reasons, but it’s important most because we really do believe in this idea that knowledge and light and goodness really are the ways that we need to proceed in life in order to advance our spiritual progress,” Joshi said.
The University of Indianapolis is trying to help spread knowledge about Diwali. On Sept. 22, there was an event run by Associate Chaplain Reverend Arionne Lynch that talked about what Diwali celebrates and when it’s celebrated. According to Lynch, it was recorded and put on YouTube for anyone to watch. In addition, Lynch said that the discussion about Diwali is part of a new series to talk about holidays such as Rashashan and Ramadan to educate students.
“… We’re hoping to have one that looks at Hanukkah, one that looks at Ramadan and a few other holidays throughout the academic year, to just sort of raise awareness…,” Lynch said. “And hopefully [it will] build connection[s] or relationship[s] across our campus so that we have a greater understanding of one another.”
Lynch said that the Interfaith Programs hope to work with the Office of Inclusion and Equity to send summaries about Diwali out to students and staff. She said that the first step to raising awareness about Diwali was hosting the event on Sept. 22. Lynch said that the event had a good turnout and Joshi said the event was fun.
“… I think that helping fellow students to feel good on a day like [Diwali], wishing them a happy Diwali, giving them a chance to take a break and do something fun is a really nice thing for the university to be able to do,” Joshi said.
The Hindu Temple of Central Indiana is celebrating Diwali this year. Any and all students are welcome to join them, even if they are not officially Hindu, Lynch said.