Nov/Dec
2015

Diwali Festival of Lights: Annual Celebration in Rochester

Written by By Shweta Raikar Anavekar
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Children around the world are familiar with the excitement associated with Christmas—an occasion that has been celebrated through generations and is valued for its religious and cultural significance. Similarly, in India people await the grand celebrations associated with Deepavali, also known as Diwali. Diwali usually is celebrated during October or November. The exact day changes every year depending on the Hindu Lunar calendar. This year, Diwali is on November 11.  

Diwali is one of the most sacred, joy-filled and colorful festivals in India. In Sanskrit “Deepavali” means row of lamps (deep or diya). This festival is a Hindu celebration that is shared among other religions including Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.  Similar to the explosion of festivities seen at Christmas, there is an explosion of activities during Diwali that brings families and friends together, putting aside differences to remember an iconic event during the history of Hindu culture. Of all celebrations, Diwali, or the festival of lights, is undoubtedly the most well known and celebrated in India.

 

SIGNIFICANCE OF DIWALI

Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama along with Sita and Lakshman from a 14-year exile. In exuberant celebration of the return of Rama, the people of Ayodhya illuminated the kingdom with earthen diyas (oil lamps) and fireworks. 

In Jainism, Diwali has an added significance where Lord Mahavira attained the eternal bliss of nirvana. In Sikhism, Sikh Guru Hargobind, who was held by the Mughal Emperor, was released on Diwali. 

There are other parallels that are related to Diwali with the essential message that throughout life we are all faced with grueling challenges, but by maintaining faith in ourselves and in our God we can overcome the challenges. Diwali is a day where we can all celebrate the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance.

ON DIWALI NIGHT

For a few days before Diwali, residences, business and temples are thoroughly cleaned and painted. People decorate their houses with flowers and rangoli/kolam—a folk art of patterns drawn on floor or courtyard using materials such as colored sand or petals.  

On Diwali night, people light earthen, lampsand candles in their courtyard. Everyone wears new clothing, and buildings are decorated with lights that sparkle throughout the night. The entire city looks bright and is filled with rows of colorful lights.

Most homes and businesses worship Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. People offer prayers and wish health, wealth and prosperity for everyone. The diyas are lit so that Goddess Lakshmi can find their house easily and shower blessings upon them. People meet their friends and family and exchange gifts, greetings and sweets on this day and enjoy the fireworks.

DIWALI IN ROCHESTER

Due to the importance and significance of the festival, Indians who have crossed the seven seas to live on different continents ensure that Diwali celebrations take place with the same zeal and enthusiasm as if they were still residing in their mother land. 

Every year in Rochester, the Hindu Samaj Temple of Minnesota, Inc. (histemplemn.org) organizes Diwali celebrations where everyone, Hindu, non-Hindu, young and old are welcome to participate in numerous activities or just enjoy the social interactions. The Indian community in Rochester uses various social networking sites to provide updates of the program. The Hindu Samaj Temple in Rochester is celebrating Diwali on November 21 at the Century High School auditorium. Tickets can be purchased from the local Indian grocery store or at the beginning of the event at the venue. Children and adults showcase their talent by participating in Indian dances and songs, ethnic fashion shows, skits and cultural activities. Delicious Indian food is served, and everyone enjoys this festival as more than the religious significance: The feeling of goodness and joy envelops everyone on this day of Diwali.

Shweta is an MBA student of Saint Mary’s University.

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