The festival of Diwali is almost here. Below is a guide to the holiday, including ways to celebrate in the city.
What is Diwali?
Diwali, India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year, is a festival of lights that celebrates the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and the human ability to overcome.
Diwali has become a national Indian festival. Outside of India, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists and others across the world celebrate the holiday. According to Queens Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar, the first South Asian-American woman ever to be elected to a state office, an estimated 200,000 New Yorkers celebrate Diwali.
The festival is associated with Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity and good fortune. It is customarily celebrated for five days.
The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepavali, meaning “rows of lighted lamps,” according to the BBC.
What is the history of Diwali?
Diwali commemorates something different for each Indian belief system.
According to the Hindu American Foundation, it honors the return of Prince Rama of Ayodhya, his wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, from a 14-year-long exile and a battle against King Ravana that Prince Rama won; for Jains, it is the day when Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras, achieved nirvana; for Sikhs, it marks the freeing of Guru Hargobind, the sixth guru, from Emperor Jahangir; and for Buddhists, it is commemorated as Ashok Vijayadashami, the day the great Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism as his faith.
What are some of the traditions of Diwali?
During the festival, lamps are lit in streets and in houses to signify light overcoming darkness. Fireworks are lit as part of many celebrations, too.
It is also customary to decorate homes with rangoli, which are traditional works of Indian art. They are traditionally made with sand, rice or flower petals, according to the Hindu American Foundation. Many place the ancient Hindu art in their homes.
Finally, many families come together, go to temple, exchange gifts, donate to charity and have feasts.
Is Diwali a school holiday?
Diwali is not a school holiday in the city, meaning students do not get a day off.
Mayor Eric Adams has repeatedly called for this to change.
It is long past time we show respect to hundreds of thousands of South Asian NYers & give this family festival of lights the shine & recognition it deserves. We came together to uplift Eid al-Adha, Eid al-Fitr, & Lunar New Year, and Diwali must be next.https://t.co/GnkMEPGFmr
— Eric Adams (@ericadamsfornyc) May 11, 2021
Most recently, he backed a bill sponsored by Rajkumar to change the school calendar.
“Our public school calendar is not just a list of days off; it is a testament to New York City’s diversity, inclusiveness, and character,” Adams said Thursday morning at a news conference.
The bill would give students the third day of the five-day celebration off. This year, that day falls on Monday, Oct. 24.
How is Diwali celebrated in the city?
In addition to celebrations at houses of worship across the city, events marking the holiday are planned across the five boroughs.
City Comptroller Brad Lander and City Councilman Shekar Krishan are hosting a free Diwali celebration at Travers Park in Queens Saturday at 11:30 a.m. A resource fair, lamp lighting ceremony and dance performance are some of the activities offered.
Mixed Masala is also hosting a Diwali celebration. It will take place at Prospect Park in Brooklyn Saturday at 3 p.m. Families of all backgrounds are encouraged to attend an “afternoon of music, traditional South Asian dance and crafts to celebrate the festive season,” Mixed Masala wrote on their website. Entry is $30 per family – proceeds are donated to Center For Family Life, a Sunset Park neighborhood-based family and social services organization.
The Pelham Art Center in Manhattan is hosting a free folk art event Sunday at noon. Festivities will include a classical music performance, a classical dance performances and a mini clay pot painting event.
The 53rd Street Library in Manhattan is holding a book reading on Monday at 11 a.m. that will feature “a couple of beautiful books that will bring the festival of Diwali to life,” the library said on their website. Children will learn about the historical, cultural and social significance of the holiday, and also sing a Diwali song.
The Bhakti Center in Manhattan is having its fifth annual free celebration Monday at 6 p.m., featuring a traditional Indian dance performance, Indian street food and drinks, face painting and a photo booth.
Many other Diwali celebrations are slated at museums, parks, clubs, restaurants, temples and libraries.