Diwali: Honoring Our Traditions on October 24th, 2021
Tell your story! Participants had the opportunity to share their Diwali story with us for the opportunity to win money for their favorite charity. Noteworthy stories were shared live during this online webinar.
Submission deadline and information is provided below. Submissions and winners are also included in the Submissions and Winners section.
Shalini S. is currently a high school senior in Northern Virginia and has been interning with DhIA for around six months. Her favorite subjects in school are currently seminar and research. Outside of academics, she is involved in basketball, theatre, and student leadership and government. When she’s not at school, Shalini can be found biking on railroad trails and in national parks or curled up on the couch reading historical fiction.
Simrin Lina Patel
My name is Simrin Lina Patel, I am 11 years old. I live in New York City with my parents and my two younger brothers. I attend Robert F. Wagner middle school and I am in 6th grade. Some things that interest me are reading, writing, debating, acting, singing, basketball, baseball, spending time with my cousins, hanging out with my friends, and so much more.
When I think of Diwali, I think of a New Year, with new opportunities. I love celebrating with my friends and family, and there are so many fun activities we do. I love dancing with my cousins, and I especially enjoy Rass. The food is delicious, and I love the sweets, like Peda. After all of the dancing and eating, it’s great to end the night with fireworks and sparklers. When I learned about Diwali about 7 years ago, I learned 2 different stories. Being Jain and Hindu, there are different traditions that I do every year. My family mostly celebrates the Hindu story of Rama, Sita, and the evil Ravana. But we do celebrate the Jain story, when Lord Mahavir became the last person to achieve Moksha on Diwali of 527 BCE. The day of Diwali isn’t just celebrated by Hindus and Jains. Buddhists and Sikhs also observe the holiday. The thing that makes Diwali so special to me is celebrating it with my loved ones. I hope that you liked my speech, and happy Diwali!
What is our ask?
Send us a video, an essay, or a drawing. Anything that tells your story about Diwali. Get Creative!
Why are we asking this from you?
Our main goal is to honor our traditions by showcasing the diverse and spectacular stories behind Diwali. There are many reasons why we celebrate Diwali, and we want to hear yours! Read through our "Learn More!" Section below to read about Diwali celebrations from the various traditions.
Who can participate?
Students of all ages can participate! From Pre-Kindergarten to the 12th grade!
We do encourage 5th grade to 12th grade students to submit an essay.
Is there a submission deadline?
Yes, the submission deadline is October 17, 2021.
How do I submit my story?
Email your art / essay to firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, grade level, and any additional information you would like us to know.
What happens after I submit my story?
Noteworthy stories will be selected to be shared live during this online webinar. Depending on students' comfort levels, students will have the option to present their own story or have a member from DhIA share the story on their behalf. You will also have an opportunity to win money for your favorite charity.
Submissions and Winners
Diwali, A Night to Unite by Kheamraj *WINNER*
Deepavali, the Festival of Lights, blesses devotees with the promise of hope and inspiration. Deepavali (also known by Diwali) unites those who observe with sincerity. Followers of Sanatan Dharma, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism reflect on the connections that hold them to loved ones and to their love for the Divine. The word Deepavali can be broken up into these two parts: “Deep,” meaning lamp, or light, and “Avali,” which means row. Thus, putting together the terms, Deepavali means Row of Lamps.
Followers of Sanatan Dharma offer prayers to Sri Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Goddess of Light. We light lamps in our home to welcome her. It is also believed that Sri Lakshmi only visits clean homes, so people tidy their homes to make them worthy of her visit on this day. While the Goddess Lakshmi confers wealth, and many consider this to be material wealth, prayers to Goddess Lakshmi on Diwali (or at any time) should seek spiritual wealth for the upkeep of our “inner light.” There is also another story as to why we light lamps on Deepavali. This story describes how Lord Rama, after finding Mother Sita and bringing her back from Sri Lanka, is welcomed by the city of Ayodhya with lots of diya lights, fireworks, and firecrackers. Observers of Diwali can celebrate for as many as five nights, which is what is observed in the tradition of my family.
Dhanawanti Trayodashi marks the first night of Diwali and it is also knowns as Dhanteras. A diya is lit by a Tulsi plant in our home. The Tulsi plant is an herbal plant with medicinal properties. Lord Dhanvantari, who is regarded as the Hindu deity that represents the personality of Ayurveda, or the science of medicine that teaches how to heal from various diseases, is worshipped on this first night. Special pujas to Goddess Lakshmi are also performed on this evening. My impression of this occasion, and the meaning of the diya lamp by the Tulsi plant, is that the light provides us with divine vision on how to heal ourselves from what makes us unhealthy, both in our bodies and mind.
Following Dhanteras, the second night we celebrate in our tradition is Narak Chaturdashi. On this day, the destructive Goddess form represented by Mother Kali destroys the demon Narakasura, ridding the world of sinful qualities and forces. For example, it is believed that on this day Mother Kali destroys laziness and those forces that prevent us from living a more productive life. On this evening, around six o’ clock, we light a diya with four wicks and place it at the front entrance of our home with the door slightly ajar. The four wicks symbolize our hope that evil from all directions will stay away from our home and, hopefully, our lives.
The third night is the main evening of Diwali where we light many diya lamps around our home. The front porch is decorated with rangoli (colorful rice) designs. Our house is abuzz with cooking, especially with the preparation of sweets to offer and share. Diwali night may also mean a trip to the Temple where prayers and Prasad are offered. There is also singing of bhajans to Mother Lakshmi to celebrate the occasion. My observation of this night is happiness represented in how family, friends, and all celebrants rejoicing with each other. The atmosphere is festive much as it was when Lord Rama returned to him home, Ayodyha, after defeating the demon Ravan.
Govardhan Puja is celebrated on the fourth night of Diwali. On this evening, we recall the story of Lord Krishna lifting the Govardhan Hill with the small finger of his left hand to protect the people from a torrential rainstorm. In fact, this story is told to remind us of the prowess of God. Lord Krishna used his left hand (typically the weaker hand) and his pinky finger (the smallest or weakest finger) to lift a gigantic mountain to protect his devotees. In our home, my mother makes a Prasad platter shaped like a mountain to represent this magnificent occasion in the life and story of Lord Krishna.
Finally, the last day of Diwali is the Bhai Dhooj occasion. It is a celebration of the relationship between a brother and a sister, like Raksha Bandhan. Fortunately, in my family, I have a sister. Usually, she may aarti me (and I would do the same), and she would apply tilak to my forehead. We exchange gifts and it is a day where we reflect on what bonds us. Personally, I remind myself of my duty as a brother to protect her as my parents instructed me to do always in my life. I feel that this is a very warm ending to the holy festival of Deepavali.
Deepavali has many meanings and symbolism, like cleanliness, devotion, and unity, but one of the main symbols is fire. In fact, fire can be thought of in different ways, and commonly what comes to mind when the word “fire” is stated is usually something destructive, like wildfire. Indeed, some kinds of fires are destructive, but in ways, it can represent unity, which is a major principle in Diwali. When a wildfire starts, it usually starts with a smaller version of itself, like a campfire, or even a spark. From there it can spread, devouring trees, roads, grass, and buildings. This kind of fire destroys and kills. Interestingly, this observation can be applied to our world today. First, physically, the coronavirus is a type of “symbolic fire.” It had started with a spark, which then turned into a campfire, which then spread like wildfire, from person to person. That is just one implication of fire to some problems going on in our world. There are also some problems with politics, people disagreeing between political parties, people expressing their views negatively, and movements and disagreements about race, too. These might have started as a spark, or campfire, such as a group of adults arguing about politics or race, and stormed off telling friends, co-workers, and the actions spread for every person who tells someone. Slowly, this can grow, more people competing against each other for pointless reasons because of their views, which can become contagious. Therefore, these are all metaphorically wildfires.
Despite being destructive, fire is not always bad. Indeed, we need it for food! Many religions, ours being one of them, use fire in their worship, or worship the fire itself (e.g., Agni). This kind of fire is not dangerous and carries blessings. When we light a Deepak, or lamp full of oil, we strike the match, transfer the fire onto a wick, or a short, thick thread coated in oil to let the fire burn and keep its shape, pointing upward to God, confining it only to the lamp. Such a thing does not destroy cities and is not harmful but creates positive and powerful energies. This is the kind of fire used to light the streets, driveways, and homes during the festival of Diwali. Even though there is “bad fire” going through the world, there is also “good fire” going on in the world, too. Scientists work hard to create the Covid vaccine, people are working to stop political disputes, discourses are happening in our communities, and people are starting to accept each other. Thus, the next time you think of fire, don’t just think of destruction. Think of Diwali and remember unity. Diwali can mean a lot of things, for some it means a festival where they light lamps, for some it means five nights, and for others it might mean new clothes, family time, relatives visiting, but mainly it is a night to unite!
Diwali by Lakhi
What Does Diwali Mean To Me? by Meghana *WINNER*
My name is Meghana Noojipady and I am in 7th grade. I am 12 years old and I live in Greenbelt, Maryland. I believe that Deepavali is a fresh start and a time to spend with family and friends. Deepavali also means the festival of lights, where people who celebrate it light lamps in their households. They also open their windows, wear nice clothes (saree’s, jewelry, etc.), light firecrackers, and more! People do this to welcome and invite the goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity into their homes and to scare away bad demons and spirits.
I learned about Deepavali when I was very young, where my parents brought up the festival Deepavali. We wore special clothes, prayed, played goddess Lakshmi’s prayers, and cooked special food. I remember how fun it was and I learned what Deepavali was about when I was old enough to understand. In my parent’s culture, my dad grew up with the story about Krishna and Narakasura and he called Diwali Deepavali. When I started attending the SSVT Dharma Classes, I was able to learn and understand so much more information about Deepavali and was fascinated by all the different stories and traditions that followed it. Those were the first times I remember celebrating and learning about Deepavali.
In my family, we celebrate Deepavali by following many traditions that relate to Deepavali. During Deepavali, we make sure to take a shower and wear new and cleaned Indian clothing. We also pray and light lamps around the house. Me and my sister wear necklaces and bangles. Our parents and us listen to prayers and songs about the goddess Lakshmi while we cook the special food for the day. Me and my sister also read books about the story of Deepavali, in our traditions, the story about Krishna and Narakasura. Some other stories about the start of Deepavali are the return from exile for Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana, when Buddha gets enlightenment, and more!
I will explain the story of Krishna and Narakasura. Hiranyaksha, who was an asura, disrupted earth’s place, and so, Lord Vishnu became a wild boar, Varaaha, and defeated the Asura, while restoring the earth to its original position. While doing this, only a single drop of sweat fell from Varaaha and it sprouted into a fully grown warrior, named Naraka. Mother Earth saw this man as her son and asked Varaaha to grant him invincibility, and so he was granted this wish and told to use his power to do good. After a very long time, Naraka started to go against dharma because of all the power he had. Krishna, who was Vishnu born on earth set off to defeat Narakasura. He went across and overcame many hard obstacles to get to Narakasura, including his capital guard, Mura. Krishna told his son the words he had told him a long time ago, to follow dharma, and Narakasura realized who Krishna was and surrendered. This was how Krishna defeated Narakasura.
Deepavali makes me feel excited and happy. This is because of all the fun and exciting things we do during Deepavali, while also remembering why we celebrate and the meaning behind it. I enjoy spending time with my family, cooking the special foods which are delicious, and doing fun activities like firecrackers and board games while listening to prayers and songs about the goddess Lakshmi. Deepavali also makes me feel very interested and fascinated, because of what I learned about the different stories behind it. I also am very interested in all of the meanings and traditions. One of the traditions that I find fascinating is when people clean their houses, light lamps, and open their windows to welcome the goddess of prosperity to their houses.
During Deepavali, I look forward to the food and songs the most! My parents are great cooks and during Deepavali, they make delicious food, sweets, and desserts! We also invite our friends so we can all celebrate together and enjoy the celebration! I also look forward to the prayers and songs we play during Deepavali. I enjoy listening to music a lot, and it is really relaxing and fun to listen to music, especially when I am having fun and celebrating Deepavali with my family and friends!
Diwali: The Celebration of Light and its Victory! by Nandana
Namaste! My name is Nandana Ratheesh. I am 12 years old as of October 2021. I live in Ellicott City, Maryland. What is Diwali? Diwali is the celebration of light that is held on the first day of the lunar calendar. As of 2021, the date of Diwali is November 4th. The meaning of Diwali and the story behind it is unique for everyone. What does Diwali mean to me? It means happiness, excitement, love, and most importantly light. My journey of Diwali starts with a bedtime story from my childhood and unravels all the way to my modern-day celebrations. You will explore the paragon Ramayana, how I celebrate Diwali at my home, and what this festival as a whole means to me. Let’s embark on my magical adventure of Diwali!
A few years ago, I was all snuggled up in my bed with my pink princess blanket, as my mom sat beside me for a bedtime story. She narrated the whole tale of Ramayana with such enthusiasm that kept me extremely fascinated: Long ago, King Dasharatha ruled over Ayodhya with his 3 wives: Kaushalya, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. With the help of a pooja, the wives gave birth to 4 boys: Rama, Lakshmana, Shatrughna, and Bharata. Sage Vashista trained all the 4 brothers to be strong warriors. After doing the impossible and breaking Shiva’s bow, Rama won the hand of the beautiful Sita in marriage. The two were the perfect pair, and loved each other immensely! Kaikeyi, one of King Dasharatha’s wives, used her boon to force King Dasharatha to exile Rama to the forest for 14 years! Once Rama was exiled, Kaikeyi’s son Bharata could become the new king. Rama’s loyal brother, Lakshmana, and Sita accompanied him in his exile. The demoness Shurpanaka, wowed by Rama’s looks, asked Rama to marry her. Explaining that he is already married, he recommends that she ask Lakshamana. Lakshamana also refuses. Enraged by the warriors’ rejections, Shurpanaka transformed to her true, demon self and attacked Lakshmana. Lakshmana quickly cut off her ears and nose. Furiously, she ran to Ravana, the demon king of Lanka and her brother. Out to seek revenge, Ravana came up with a sneaky, evil plan. One of Ravana’s demon friends disguised himself as a golden deer and distracted Rama and Lakshmana. Ravana kidnapped Sita and flew her to Lanka on his flying chariot. Extremely worried at Sita’s mysterious disappearance, the two loyal brothers search everywhere for her. Along the way, they gain the exceptional help of Lord Hanuman and his monkey army. After a long war with Ravana and his army, Rama finally was reunited with his love, Sita. Upon his return to Ayodhya, the kingdom was beautifully decorated, with flowers lining buildings and lights glowing the way back to his palace. This joyful practice of lighting lamps and decorating houses with flowers is known as the famous festival of Diwali!
Diwali teaches everyone about the fact that light/ goodness will always win over darkness/ evil. Diwali is all about celebrating that wonderful truth. Here in my household, we have a lot of fun! My mother will cook a delicious meal that the entire family will gobble up within minutes. After changing into beautiful clothes, we will pray to our gods and goddesses. With that peace in our minds, we will do the most special activity of the day: lighting the diya. Nothing is more prettier and indescribable than the flame of the diya. I could watch the swaying beauty for hours straight!
Diwali has a unique feeling that only comes once a year, on this day. The vibe and ambience of the auspicious day is so inspiring and happy. Diwali makes me feel happy, proud, and grateful for my life and culture. My body is flowing with energy that keeps me so happy throughout the day.
Diwali is an extremely special holiday in the lunar calendar. It’s not only because of the magnificent sights. It is mainly because of the extremely inspiring and powerful message that this holiday sends. Even though Diwali is fun and beautiful, it is also vital that everyone takes time to recognize the lesson behind it. Hinduism’s many holidays, such as Navaratri, offer important teachings to live a dharmic life. Hindu holidays are entertaining and helpful. This is the perfect combination!
Diwali Story by Rohit
Diwali, the festival of lights, is a very important holiday to me and my family. My name is Rohit Chennamsetti and I am 13 years old. I live in Rockville, MD with my mom, dad, sister, and pet bunny. Diwali has been a part of my culture for my entire life. When I was a toddler, I started painting pretty designs on plates and diyas with my family. Later, I was told the story of the Ramayana. I learned that Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. Now, Diwali still has this meaning to me, it’s just a lot deeper. A few weeks ago, my grandfather died and it impacted me greatly. He was a very religious person and he always celebrated Diwali. Thinking about that made me remember all the good things in his life and all the memories that I was lucky enough to share with him. As I reminisce, I am going to continue making new memories with my friends and family on Diwali. Lighting firecrackers and painting diyas together will always be part of our tradition. To me, celebrating Diwali is supposed to make one feel joyful and I will always be looking forward to spending time with the people I love.
Diwali by Shreya
When I think of Diwali, the instant thought that comes to my mind is LIGHTS. But if someone asked me what Diwali really is, I wouldn’t know. So, what really is Diwali?
We celebrate Diwali with fireworks and sweets, but Diwali really started a long time ago. Diwali, or the festival of lights, was first celebrated when Rama defeated Ravana and came back to Ayodhya with Lakshmana and Sita after spending 14 years in the forest. That day, everyone was overjoyed at the return of their beloved Rama, so they all dressed up, ate sweets and lit up lights.
Diwali is also celebrated for five days. The first day is called Dhanteras, which is the day where we worship wealth. Goddess Lakshmi is worshipped on this day and there is usually a custom to buy something precious. It is believed that Goddess Lakshmi will come into our home, so people normally clean or decorate their homes. The second day is called Naraka Chaturdashi or Choti Diwali. It is the day where people wake up early and apply oil on their heads before taking a bath. This is done to remove all sins. The third day is called Lakshmi Puja, and it’s the main day of Diwali. People perform the Lakshmi Puja in hopes that Goddess Lakshmi will bless them. The fourth day is called Govardhan Pooja. This is the day Lord Krishna defeated Indra by lifting the Govardhan, a huge mountain. The last day is called Bhai Dooj. On this day, sisters invite their brothers. They perform the Tilak ceremony and sisters pray for their brother’s long and healthy life, while brothers give gifts to their sisters.
Today, we continue to celebrate these traditions by lighting diyas and firecrackers with friends and family. We also hold events where people showcase their singing and dancing talents. In India, the people there get a day off from school and wear all new clothes, go to temples and spend the day with their family and friends.
Diwali is the day which symbolizes the triumph of good over evil or light over darkness. It is celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains all over the world. Diwali is the “Festival of Lights” and the day we dress up, eat sweets, spend time with friends and family and celebrate our GODS.
I can’t wait to celebrate Diwali and I hope you are too.
"Diwali, or Dipawali, is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians.
Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that's also enjoyed by non-Hindu communities. For instance, in Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening, of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C.; in Sikhism, it honors the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment. Buddhists in India celebrate Diwali as well."
"Diwali is the five-day Festival of Lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world.
Diwali, which for some also coincides with harvest and new year celebrations, is a festival of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness.
The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepavali, meaning "rows of lighted lamps".
Houses, shops and public places are decorated with small oil lamps called diyas. People also enjoy fireworks and sweets too, so it's really popular with children."
"Diwali is primarily celebrated by followers of the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain faiths. However, the holiday is celebrated throughout India, Singapore, and several other South Asian countries as a national holiday, meaning that people outside these religions may participate in Diwali celebrations, too. Hindu, Sikh, and Jain communities in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and elsewhere around the globe also regularly celebrate Diwali."
"Diwali is the harbinger of holidays and fun times. But pause a while. Why is Diwali celebrated?
Here’s a brief look at how and why Diwali is celebrated by different religions…"
"One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual 'victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance'."
"A number of major street celebrations are held periodically involving processions, displays of Buddha images and services in the three cities of the Kathmandu Valley and in other parts of Nepal."
"Diwali has a very special significance in Jainism. It marks the anniversary of Nirvana (final release) or liberation of Mahavira's soul, the twenty fourth and last Jain Tirthankara of present cosmic age. It is also celebrated at the same time as the Hindu festival of Diwali. Diwali marks the end of the year for the Jains and it likewise remembers the passing commemoration of their 24th Tirthankara Mahavira and his achievement of moksha."
"Bandi Chhor Divas ("Day of Liberation") is a Sikh celebration that commemorates the day the sixth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Hargobind was released from Gwalior Fort. Emperor Jahangir had held him at the Gwalior Fort for several months. A Sikh Gurdwara, Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhor Sahib, is located at the place of the Gurus internment in the Fort. The day falls in autumn and often overlaps with Hindu Diwali, the festival of lights celebrated across Punjab."
"Bandna is a traditional festival of the Kurmi caste and Kudmali speaking-castes in the Indian states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Odisha. It is celebrated annually during the Amavashya of Kartik month."
"Sohrai is a harvest festival of the Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and West Bengal. It also called cattle festival. It is celebrated after harvest and coincide with festival of Diwali. It is celebrated by Prajapati, Santal, Munda and Oraons among others."
"Swanti is a five-day festival of Nepal which is one of the year's greatest celebrations for the Newar people. It is the Newar version of Tihar or Diwali. The festival highlights the central role of women in the household, and the rituals are related to wishing for good fortune of the family members by presenting them auspicious items and praying for longevity by placating the god of death."
"Tihar also known as Deepawali and Yamapanchak or Swanti, is a five-day-long Hindu festival celebrated in Nepal and Indian states of Sikkim and West Bengal, particularly the towns of Darjeeling and Kalimpong, which host a large number of ethnic Nepali people. Tihar is analogous to the Indian festival of Diwali, the festival of lights, but with some significant differences."