In recognition and celebration of the diversity of human spirituality, the Monks Without Borders Newsletter provides regular information on the special days of the world’s religions as they arrive throughout the year. The following information was provided by Common Tables in the form of an interfaith eLert. More information about this service and the work of Common Tables can be obtained at http://www.commontables.org

Diwali – Hindu, Sikh, Jain

India’s largest and best known holiday, Diwali (pronounced Di-vall-ee or dih-WAH-lee), is popularly known as the “festival of lights”; however, its most noteworthy meaning in a spiritual sense may be “the awareness of the inner light”.

Fundamental in Hindu philosophy is the belief that there is something beyond the physical body and mind which is pure, infinite, and eternal, called the Atman (pronounced in Sanskrit like Atma). Deepavali (Diwali) is the celebration of this inner light, in particular of the knowing that this light outshines all darkness (removes all obstacles and dispels all ignorance), and awakens the individual to their true nature, not as the body, but as an unchanging, infinite, immanent and transcendent reality. With the knowing of the Atman comes universal compassion, love, and the understanding of the oneness of all things.

In most regions, Diwali lasts for five days. It begins on the 14th day of the dark half of the Hindu calendar month of Asvina. (Hindu months are each divided into a light half, when the moon waxes, and a dark half, when it wanes.) In 2009, on the Gregorian calendar, Diwali begins on October 17th.

The story behind Diwali, as well as the length and specific details of the celebrations, varies widely from region to region; however, the essence is the same: to rejoice in the inner light (Atman) or the underlying reality of all things (Brahman) through festive fireworks, lights, flowers, the sharing of sweets and worship.

Although it is a national holiday in India with its roots in Hinduism, it is important to understand that in India Diwali is a holiday for all people regardless of religion. There it is celebrated not only by Hindus, but also by Jains, Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists and others.

For the Jains: Diwali marks the attainment of nirvana by Lord Mahavira – the last of the Jain Tirthankaras – on October 15, 527 BC and is one of their most important festivals.

For the Sikhs: Diwali (also called Bandi Chhorh Diwas or “the day of release of detainees”) is a particularly important day because it celebrates the release from imprisonment in 1619 of the sixth Sikh Guru, Hargobind Ji.

Traditional Greeting: Shubh Deepawali! is a traditional greeting.  It literally translates to “have an auspicious Diwali”. 

Although truly a global celebration, Diwali is most widely – and enthusiastically – celebrated in India where it is a holiday for all people of all religions and faith traditions. With nearly 1.2 billion people, India ranks second among all nations in population. On October 17th, as the world celebrates Diwali, we ask that you pause and, in a manner consistent with your faith tradition and/or belief system, send heartfelt feelings of love and good will to all of our Indian brothers and sisters.

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