Issues of light and darkness, evil and goodness are prevalent in all the great religions of the world. These are concerns that everyone grapples with in life — and we are reminded of this once again today, as Hindus begin the festival of Diwali, the Festival of Lights.
There are many different spellings of the word and many variations of the festival in different places in India and elsewhere. In southern India, where CNEWA works with the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches, Diwali is celebrated by our Hindu neighbors.
As is the case with some holidays in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the date of Diwali depends upon the moon. It is a five-day festival which begins with the new moon between the Hindu months of Asvin and Kartika, which translates into sometime between the middle of October and middle of November on the Gregorian calendar. This year Diwali begins on 19 October.
Diwali celebrates the victory of the god Rama. His story is found in the epic poem Ramayana, which is well over two thousand years old and contains over 240,000 verses, making it one of the longest poems in the world. In it Rama with his wife Sita and half-brother Lakshmana is exiled from his kingdom. While in exile in the forest, Rama’s wife, Sita, is kidnapped by the demon king Ravana. A battle ensues, Rama is victorious and all return in glory to Ayodha, where Rama is king.
Diwali is a joyful and extravagant feast, with an emphasis on sweet foods, exchanging of gifts and decorating of houses. Since it is the festival of lights, lamps, fireworks and wonderful decorations called rangoli abound. Each area and even each family will have its own tradition of how the rangoli is designed. It is a complicated piece of art composed of colorful symbols and complicated patterns. It is often surrounded by burning lamps. In some places floating candles are launched onto lakes and rivers or colorful paper lanterns released into the sky by the thousands.
During Diwali prayer and services (pujas) are offered. Some Hindus direct special prayers to Lashsimi, who is the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and to Lord Ganesha, the elephant deity, who is the remover of obstacles.
As the world becomes smaller and religions must learn to interact with respect and peace, it was good to hear that in southern India Christians send Diwali cards and greetings to their Hindu neighbors. Even in some parts of the U.S. and Canada, Diwali is becoming a festival that is familiar to non-Hindus.
Read the Vatican’s message for Diwali 2017 here (old/broken link: https://www.news.va/en/news/vaticans-message-for-deepavali-2017).