Every year, we celebrate the Indian festival of Diwali. This is the first of several Festivals of Light that we acknowledge each year. Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word Dipawali which translates as row of lights. Festivities begin with the lighting of lamps on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartika (October-November). The celebration throughout the country continues for at least two or three days. In some areas it may last as many as ten days. It also marks the end of autumn and the beginning of the winter season in India. The origins of Diwali are obscured in folklore and legend. Some say it commemorates the return of Rama and his bride, Sita, to his throne at Ayidhya after a fourteen-year exile. Others believe it marks Krishna’s destruction of Narakasura, the demon of filth. Still others trace its beginnings to the freeing of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, from prison in the Nether World. In Bengal, some interpret it as a time to honor the goddess Kali.
In any case, every household marks the occasion by illuminating interiors, courtyards, outer walls, roofs, gates and gardens with lights, as if to show the way for any or all of these mythic travelers. Traditionally, the lights were tiny lamps called dipas. Though many people continue to make dipas, candles and electric lights are also used. Homes are cleaned from top to bottom and decorated with garlands of brightly colored flowers. Birds and flower designs called kolams or rangoli are made with colored rice flour on the doorsteps. People dress in their finest clothes, have wonderful feasts and visit friends and relatives. In the evening, prayers and offerings are given at the family altar and the lamps are lit.
At school, many of our Indian families get together to prepare a special presentation for all the Primary children to allow them to experience this holiday. Part of this involves a special holiday meal. We also enjoy a dance performance and other special activities as part of our celebration.