Diwali – Diwali a Hindu holiday, is celebrated this week by Hindus all over the world, including an estimated 2 million in the United States. However, most Americans don’t even know what it is about. Many Hindu Americans say they know, and they’re working to change that, but not with educational billboards or “A Charlie Brown Diwali” special on network television.
Instead, they’re encouraging fellow Hindus to be a little more open about their celebrations, to tell friends, colleagues and their children’s teachers that Diwali is a big deal within Hinduism, the world’s third largest religion.
“Someday it’s my hope that you’ll say, ‘It’s Diwali,’ and the boss will say, ‘Oh, OK, you’ll take the day off,'” said Suhag Shukla, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation. “That’s progress — the feeling that as a Hindu, you don’t have to explain.”
Dr. Rasik Shah, a pediatric lung specialist in New York City, said he used to be a little shy about taking Diwali off. “But over time,” he said, “I have been a little more bold, a little more vocal.”
“We have to say what we want,” said Shah. “This is my holiday.”
It’s the celebration of the Hindu New Year, not all that different from Judaism’s Rosh Hashanah, with equal parts of Hanukkah’s festival of lights and Fourth of July sparklers thrown in. On a deeper level, Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Celebrated by Hindus and some Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, Diwali draws on the legends of each religion.
One of the most popular commemorates the return of Hinduism’s Lord Rama from banishment. According to the ancient Hindu epic Ramayana, Rama destroys a 10-headed demon. As he returns home, villagers lay out lamps to light his way. The name “Diwali” means “row of lights.”
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