Fact Sheet: Diwali Why have we produced these notes? These notes are intended to increase understanding about religious holidays and celebrations for managers and other employees that work with staff and students who are Sikh, Hindu and Jain. What is Diwali? Diwali, is the most popular of all the festivals from South Asia, and is also the occasion for celebrations by Jains and Sikhs as well as Hindus. The festival of Diwali extends over five days. Because of the lights, fireworks, and sweets involved, it's a great favourite with children. The festival celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance, although the actual legends that go with the festival are different in different parts of India. The Times of India summed up the modern meaning of Diwali: “Regardless of the mythological explanation one prefers, what the festival of lights really stands for today is a reaffirmation of hope, a renewed commitment to friendship and goodwill, and a religiously sanctioned celebration of the simple - and some not so simple - joys of life”. Diwali in the UK In Britain, as in India, the festival is a time for thoroughly spring-cleaning the home and for wearing new clothes and most importantly, decorating buildings with fancy lights. The city of Leicester is particularly noted for its Diwali celebrations. Diwali Dates The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar and so it varies in the Western calendar. It usually falls in October or November. Diwali is a New Year festival in the Vikrama calendar, where it falls on the night of the new moon in the month of Kartika. Diwali is also used to celebrate a successful harvest. A Row of Lights The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights. Diwali is known as the 'festival of lights' because houses, shops, and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fuelled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and outside buildings to decorate them. In the bigger towns and in Britian electric lights are often used in place of the oil lamps. The lamps are lit to help the goddess Lakshmi find her way into people's homes. They also celebrate one of the Diwali legends, which tells of the return of Rama and Sita to Rama's kingdom after fourteen years of exile. In India oil lamps are often floated across the river Ganges - it is regarded as a good omen if the lamp manages to get all the way across. For Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Hargobind Singh, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619. The Sikh tradition holds that the Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned Hargobind Singh and 52 princes. The Emperor was asked to release Hargobind Singh which he agreed to do. However, Hargobind Singh asked that the princes be released also. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold onto his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of prisoners who could leave. However, Hargobind Singh had a cloak made with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold onto one string and leave prison. Sikhs celebrated the return of Hargobind Singh by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today.
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