Diwali embraced by religions across Mason

Kaelyn Rodrigues | Staff Writer

Most holidays are celebrated by a single religion. This Indian festival is shared by three.

Diwali is a five day-long holiday observed in several religions, including Hinduism, Sikhism, and Jainism. Although each religion celebrates Diwali at the same time, they have different meanings behind the holiday and sometimes refer to it under varying names to further differentiate from the other observances.

Diwali is primarily celebrated by followers of Hinduism, a polytheistic religion that originated in India. Variations of the name include Dipavali or Deepavali. Junior Ananya Bhavanishankar celebrates the holiday at the Hindu temple and at home with her friends and family.

“Diwali marks new beginnings and the victory of good over evil and light over darkness,” Bhavanishankar said. “My family and I always go to the temple and we pray to the gods and goddesses, and have a huge feast with traditional Indian foods. People come together and celebrate it with all forms of light, including clay lamps, fireworks and decorative lights; [it’s] very colorful.”

In Sikhism, a monotheistic religion that branched off of Hinduism, the holiday is called Bandi Chhor Divas, which translates to Prisoner Release Day. Gurus, or teachers, are the spiritual leaders of Sikhism. Junior Ajun Parmar said Bandi Chhor Divas marks the anniversary of Guru Hargobind’s release from prison in 1619.

“It’s on the same day as Diwali but it’s a little bit different,” Parmar said. “It’s when our sixth Guru was released from prison along with 52 Hindu kings. He became the Guru after his father was killed by the Mughal [Emperor] Jahangir. [Guru Hargobind] said everyone should be able to practice whatever religion they want, but Jahangir didn’t like this, so when he was around 19, Guru Hargobind was sent to prison.”

Although Bandi Chhor Divas is a relatively minor holiday in Sikhism and has a different meaning compared to other religions. Parmar said the occurrence is celebrated in a similar way: through light and color.

“We go to our worshipping place, Gurdwara, and we put up lights and candles there and in our houses,” Parmar said. “At the end, we light up fireworks. We do the same kinds of festivities [as Hindus], except for the meaning behind the holiday.”

Senior Deeya Shah observes Diwali through Jainism, a sub-religion of Hinduism that follows stricter principles regarding diet and fasting. Shah said that like Bhavanishankar, she goes to her local temple to celebrate with family and friends through traditional Indian dancing and cuisine.

“Diwali is a celebration of light, and a way to bring family together; I think that’s the same for all religions,” Shah said. “We always have an event at our temple; there’s a lot of dance performances and food. At the house my mom will make special food during that week.”

In Jainism, there are 24 tirthankaras, or spiritual leaders. According to Shah, Diwali is primarily observed in remembrance of the last tirthankara, Lord Mahavir, who revitalized modern Jainism.

“We celebrate Diwali to honor Lord Mahavir; he [made] Jainism into the religion it is today,” Shah said. “Diwali is actually [the] anniversary of ridding his karma and attaining true happiness. He did this by strongly believing in nonviolence and that individuals should always have an open mind. Because of how he enlightened the world with his teachings, we light lamps around the house.”

Aside from the religious significance of the holiday, Shah said she enjoys celebrating Diwali because it brings her closer to her family.

“My grandma used to love Diwali because of all different colors and and everything, and she loved to dance,” Shah said. “We were very close, and she passed away like three or four years ago. Knowing that gives me a personal connection to celebrate it because like we used to celebrate together.”

Photos by Kaelyn Rodrigues and Riley Johansen.