Teaching about Diwali

Today is Diwali (also spelled Divali, and sometimes called Deepavali/Deepawali), an important cultural and/or religious holiday worth learning about. It is celebrated by over a billion people on Earth (including many of our students and staff members)!

Why Teach about Diwali?

While the holiday is celebrated for its religious significance for many Indian religions (including Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and others), it is also important to learn about in the context of studying world cultures, because of its’ CULTURAL significance.

In my school district, this is particularly relevant for students in 7th Grade World Studies, who will soon be talking more about the cultural significance of holidays, and the role they play in human civilization and society, in the next few weeks when we start Unit 2 (Culture & Cultural Diffusion). Thus, even from a strictly informative standpoint, it is worth learning about!

What is Diwali?

The holiday has many different meanings for different cultural and religious groups in India, but one of the key themes of Diwali is the celebration of the triumph of good over evil (definitely an idea we can all get behind). This theme is represented in many different ways for the hundreds of diverse cultural groups in South Asia.

Diwali (or Deepawali) means “row of lamps,” and these lamps or lanterns represent the “inner light” in all of us. Often, when someone wishes you a Happy Diwali, they also share some version of this sentiment: "may there be so much light filling your lives that darkness finds no room to dwell!"

Diwali in Hinduism

For Hindus, Diwali is part of a five-day Festival of Lights that begins just before the New Year in the Hindu lunar calendar.

  • Day 1 - Families (and business owners) decorate their doorsteps with Rangoli Art, hang lights, display rows of clay lamps, and often leave their windows open, in order to invite Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, prosperity, and good fortune, into their homes. Many families also pray.
  • Day 2 - Many families give one another gifts of new clothes and jewelry, and people relax and cleanse themselves in preparation for the next day.
  • Day 3 - This is the main day of Diwali, and it's like India's New Year's Eve. People celebrate by dressing up, eating sweets, and with prayer -- and fireworks!
  • Day 4 - People wear new clothes and jewelry and typically pray and spend time in their temples.
  • Day 5 - Siblings pray for one another and exchange gifts.

Diwali in Sikhism

While many Sikhs celebrate Diwali for its cultural significance, Diwali has a different religious meaning for them. Diwali is celebrated in Sikhism for some distinct reasons:

  • Sikhs celebrate an event called Bandi Chhorh Divas, which marks the return of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji, who was freed, and helped free 52 Hindu kings who were being held as political prisoners, in 1619. When he arrived at Harmandar Sahib (aka The Golden Temple), it was Diwali day, and hundreds of lamps had been lit to welcome him home.
  • Diwali is also associated with the martyrdom of an elderly Sikh scholar and strategist named Bhai Mani Singh, in 1737 on Diwali day. Bhai Mani Singh was the Granthi (reader of Sikh scripture) at Harmandir Sahib, and he transcribed the final version of Guru Granth Sahib (the Sikhs' Living Guru and holy book) dictated to him by Guru Gobind Singh, the last guru of the Sikhs, in 1704. The martyrdom of this important religious and historical figure is also honored on Diwali.

Many Sikhs celebrate the "main day" of Diwali for its cultural significance, but may also partake in religious activities, including Kirtan and an Akhand Paath (continuous reading of Guru Granth Sahib). Typically, Sikhs celebrate Diwali with fireworks and thousands of shimmering lights at Gurdwaras.

Resources for Teaching about Diwali

There are links embedded throughout the information above, which you are more than welcome to use. Below you will find some more links to resources that didn't make it into the text above, but that can be used or shared to enrich understanding of this holiday's significance, as well as to improve cultural competence and proficiency.

What is Diwali - on BrainPop.com (Requires a login; check with your school system)

Activities and Resources for Diwali Lesson Plans - via BBC's Resources for Schools

Pre-made Lesson Plan for Teaching about Diwali - via Scholastic.com

Talking About Diwali - a YouTube video geared toward ESL/ESOL students

A Fun Video of Various Celebrations & Diwali Greetings from Around the World

Images of Diwali being Celebrated - via TheGuardian's Life & Style section

 

While you are welcome to use any of the information above, you may prefer to put together a mini-lesson plan of your own. If you do, please consider sharing it! Happy Diwali to all of you and your families! And just for fun, here's President Obama wishing you a Happy Diwali as well.