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Diwali 2012: The Festival Of Lights (PHOTOS, LIVE UPDATES)

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DIWALI 2012
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Happy Diwali! How are you celebrating Diwali this year? Share your story with us. Email your photos and reflections to us at religion@huffingtonpost.com. Text submissions should be 300-400 words in length. We will accept them until Nov. 15, 2012.

[Scroll down for live updates.]

In 2012 Diwali, the festival of lights, will celebrated on Nov. 13 by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs around the world. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit deepavali, which means a row of lights. The festival of Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over dark, good over evil and knowledge over darkness.

Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar and there are multiple reasons why Hindus celebrate this festival. The most popular narrative, based in the ancient Sanskrit epic Ramayana, is of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana returning to their kingdom Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana.

On that dark new moon night, the residents of Ayodhya joyfully lit oil lamps to welcome Rama, Sita and Lakshmana back to the kingdom. Following in that tradition, Hindus celebrate Diwali by lighting oil lamps, bursting firecrackers, cleaning and decorating their homes, distributing sweet delicacies and gathering with friends and family. In Hindu homes around the world, people gather to offer prayers to Sita and Rama, Radha and Krishna, Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, Ganesh, the god of auspiciousness. For many in the Hindu community, Diwali is also the beginning of a new year. A popular greeting around this time is "Shubh Diwali."

In the Sikh tradition, Diwali commemorates the release of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Sikh Guru, who was imprisoned by the Mughal emperor Jahangir. When Guru Hargobind arrived in Amritsar, his devotees lit thousands of oil lamps to celebrate his return. For Sikhs, this day is known as Bandi Chhor Divas (day of release from prison). Sikhs celebrate Diwali by lighting oil lamps and reading from the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sikh holy text.

In the Jain tradition, Diwali marks the attainment of enlightenment by Lord Mahavira, the 24th Tirthankara of Jainism who laid down the central tenets of the Jain religion as it is practiced today. Jains celebrate Diwali by lighting lamps, distributing sweets, fasting and practicing acts of charity.

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-- Ruby Sinha from Los Angeles, CA

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Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is marked by five days of revelry, replete with boxes of desi (pure) ghee sweets and earsplitting firecrackers that sparkle in the sky. The party is incomplete without shuffling a deck of playing cards and winning the popular game or two of teen patti, also known as flash.

If you win at games of chance during Diwali, according to the popular belief, the goddess Lakshmi, the bearer of wealth, will generously bestow riches upon you during the new year. Gambling is frowned upon for the rest of the year for Hindus.

So, naturally, the gaming capital of the United States, Las Vegas, embraces Diwali. And despite the city’s well-established reputation as a spot where outlandish, uncharacteristic behavior is welcomed, for Diwali, Las Vegas goes a little traditional.

Read the rest at The New York Times.

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diwali rangoli

-- Aashwany Chandra Mohan

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U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and John Cornyn (R-TX), co-chairs of the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan India Caucus, introduced a resolution this week to honor and celebrate the festival of Diwali.

“As co-chair of the Senate India Caucus, I am pleased to sponsor a resolution celebrating this important holiday for the Indian people and Indian-Americans here at home,” Sen. Warner said. “India is the world’s largest democracy, which makes our countries and our people natural partners. It’s a relationship based on shared values, and it's one I’d like to continue to grow.”

"Diwali's message of tolerance, compassion, and the victory of good over evil resonates with the American spirit," said Sen. Cornyn. "As Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and others come together to celebrate this festival of lights, let us all be reminded, as Americans, of one of our most cherished freedoms: the freedom of religion."

Read the resolution here.

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diwali mehendi

This picture is of the Wharton Partners Club mehndi party from Nov. 14, 2012. We have several first-year club members who are from India, and this is their first Diwali away from home as they moved to Philadelphia while their spouses attend The Wharton School. One woman opened up her home to partners for a get-together to eat Indian food, learn about Diwali, light diya lamps and get henna designs for the Wharton India Club's Diwali party happening Nov. 15, 2012. Photo credit: Anna Chandra Photography

-- Lauren Swanson from Philadelphia, PA

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My husband and I got married a few months ago. As newlyweds, we kept it simple by lighting one candle this year -- but the joy in our hearts is still grand. We are very grateful for our wonderful year of celebrations and we look forward to the new year ahead.

-- Depeka Rampertaap

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@ TravelMOI : In literal meaning, ‘Bhai’ means brother and ‘Dooj’ means the second day after the new moon which is a day of celebration.

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diwali fireworks delhi

Fireworks light up the night sky above high-rise buildings during Diwali celebrations in New Delhi, India, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2012. Diwali, the festival of lights dedicated to the Goddess of wealth Lakshmi, is being celebrated across the country Tuesday. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

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I am not religious at all; I am not Hindu, Jain or Sikh. I am an atheist and I am an Indian. I was born in India and raised in the United States.

I love Indian culture. I love the stories, and I love the dancing and the music and all of the colorful festivities. So, for me, Diwali means telling the story of Prince Rama from the Valmiki tale “The Ramayana," thus preserving my culture for my children, who were born and raised in this country. This tale is full of romance, drama, war and intrigue, and is a classic tale in Indian literature; it is also one of my favorite stories. It is in the same vein as Homer’s “The Illiad” or “The Odyssey.” It is an epic.

When I was little, we used to have “Sunday School” which was our own version of church. We would gather at a different house every Sunday, do puja (prayer) and then my father would tell us stories of Indian culture. He went through the entire “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata” chapter by chapter week by week. My friends, my sister and I would sit in a semi-circle and listen while he told the stories in his own words. Even the adults listened enrapt. My father passed away several years ago, but I'll never forget the wonderful stories he told in his quiet, teacher voice.

I never stopped loving the stories and I read them over and over again. Every Diwali, I tell my children the tale of Prince Rama. In doing so, I am imparting the knowledge of my culture to them. They are half-Jewish and half-Indian so it is important to me that they learn about where I came from because it is a part of who I am.

After the story, we turn on all the lights in the house to light the way for Prince Rama. Sometimes we go to the neighbor’s house (a very nice Indian family) and light sparklers with them. But we always do something to celebrate Prince Rama’s epic tale.

-- Madhavi Vijay Joshi

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diwali lights

-- Jyoti Yadav from Gurgaon, India

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@ avolara : On this day in history, Sri Krishna takes the form of a simple hill to demonstrate the values of humility, community, and pure faith in God.

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deepavali singapore 2001

In April 2000, my family moved from Australia to Singapore. As far removed from suburban Melbourne as I could possibly be and in that first year I saw everything through glasses that enhanced the colour and the smell and the heat. Everything was new, everything was different and each new festival was to be experienced to the fullest.

Singapore demonstrates an extraordinary ability to embrace cultural difference. We went from celebrating Buddha’s birthday to Easter, Hari Raya Puasa, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Thaipusam and of course Deepavali (or Diwali), the Festival of Lights -– the festivals with their wonderful, evocative names flashed past me.

I had already fallen in love with Little India. Coming from a “colonial” background, I had grown up on a diet of curries and Little India reminded me of my childhood memories of the bazaars of Nairobi, a bustling place filled with shops selling everything from cooking pots to the brightest gold jewellery. Swags of multi-coloured saris hung across the five foot ways and the aroma of curry pervaded our pores.

On a hot, steamy evening in November we braved the crowds to visit Little India in all its Deepavali glory. Always hot and crowded, the crowds had multiplied three times. Serangoon Road had been strung with garlands of bright lights and illuminated pictorial scenes. Tinsel and paper banners wishing everyone a Happy Deepavali hung from every conceivable place. The smell of spices, mingled with the peppery scent of chrysanthemum hung heavily in the air and everywhere there were people. Tourists and locals dressed in their Deepavali finest jostled with each other in a spirit of high good humour. Above all it was about families, strolling the streets together sharing in the fun of the moment and the search for the special foods and new clothes that only high holidays such as Christmas, Chinese New Year and Hari Raya Puasa demanded. That one time of year when it is about remembering the ties of family past and present and just being together.

I went back of course, the following year but nothing quite captured the magic of that first experience of Deepavali and if I close my eyes I can still smell the Chrysanthenums.

-- Alison Brideson from Melbourne, Australia

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@ TajHotels : The last day of the diwali is 'Bhai-Duj', a charming festival symbolizing the love between sisters and brothers.

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Diwali is one of the most important Hindu festivals and is hallmarked by the placement of diyas -- small oil lamps made of clay -- in Hindu homes and businesses. The word "diwali" translates from Sanskrit to English as "row of lights," but the meaning of the lights is as diverse as the Hindu people themselves.

For some, the lights guide Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, toward those who seek prosperity. For others, the lights pay homage to King Rama, an incarnation of the god Vishnu, from the Hindu epic tale, Ramayana. As legend has it, diyas welcomed Rama after he defeated a demon to return home from a 14-year exile. Still others believe the lights symbolize Krishna's defeat of the demon-king Narakaasura.

At Quiet Mind Yoga in Columbia Heights, Meyers' Diwali class centered not only on light, but also on the relationship between darkness and light. Meyers, who is not Hindu, has been celebrating Diwali for about three years -- fascinated by the theme of light overcoming darkness that has helped frame her personal journey through the darkness of addiction and depression.

Continue reading here.

-- Dawn Cherie Araujo

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@ VP : The Vice President stopped by the @WhiteHouse Diwali celebration yesterday. Read more here: http://t.co/lzb87Byf

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In truly classic Colbert Report style, Stephen Colbert takes Indian President Pranab Mukherjee to task for encouraging a pollution-free Diwali, laments the advent of secularism and flaunts his knowledge of Hinduism. Enjoy!

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Lilly Singh AKA Superwoman narrates the experience of celebrating Diwali in the West in a way that is sure to make you ROFL. Lilly Singh is a Sikh Canadian comedian and YouTube sensation.

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This week, most of those of South Asian descent around the world are celebrating Diwali, the "festival of lights" that is rooted in the Hindu tradition. It is one of the major celebrations of the year for Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, and was even recognized in a video by President Obama in 2009, and in his Diwali greetings this year, he took inspiration from the resilience shown by the Sikhs of Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

I have written in past years about Bandi Chhor Divas -- the Sikh celebration at this time of year that commemorates the release from the prison at Gwalior Fort (in Madhya Pradesh, India) of Guru Hargobind, the sixth Guru of the Sikhs, in 1619. As his release occurred around the time of Diwali, the celebrations took a new connotation for the Sikhs, making it a commemoration of the "Day of Liberation."

Guru Hargobind - a painting from the Lahore MuseumWe do not only celebrate the release of Guru Hargobind, but also his action to secure the release of 52 other kings and princes who were also locked up in the prison by India's Mughal ruler of the time, Jehangir. This emperor long had an antagonistic relationship with this new religious community rising from within his kingdom, and so much so that he had ordered and carried out the execution of Guru Arjun, the fifth Guru of the Sikhs and Guru Hargobind's predecessor. When Jehangir was eventually convinced to release Guru Hargobind, the Guru indicated that he would only leave when the other prisoners were also set free.

Continue reading here.

-- Rupinder Mohan Singh (@americanturban)

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@ matthancockmp : What a wonderful evening of Diwali celebrations at the Neasden Temple. Jai Swaminarayan!

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govardhan puja london

Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

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hindu temple made of food

A temple made entirely out of food presented as part of the Diwali festivities at APS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on Nov. 14, 2012 in Longdon, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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Foods are laid out inside the shrine ahead of a ceremony as Hindus celebrate Diwali at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on Nov. 14, 2011 in London, England. Diwali is being celebrated by thousands of Hindu men women and children in the Neasden mandir, which was the first traditional Hindu temple to open in Europe. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

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-- Sonal M from Dallas, TX

Email your rangoli design or Diwali lights photo to religion@huffingtonpost.com or tweet us at @huffpostrelig using #diwali #mylights

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Govardhan Puja is celebrated on the fourth day of Diwali and is one of the biggest festivals for Krishna devotees. HuffPost blogger Vineet Chander explains the story behind this festival:

In ages past, the text (Bhagavad Purana) told us, Lord Krishna descended to the earthly realm. Playing the part of an ordinary boy, he lived in the rural village of Vrindavan. Each year around this time, the villagers would enact an elaborate ritual to appease the gods and pray for good weather. Seeing this, Krishna was concerned that the simple people were becoming too attached to fear-based ritualism and superstition. He advised them to abandon this practice, and instead to dedicate their energy to caring for the cows, the land and one another. Krishna's loving words charmed the simple villagers' hearts and enlightened their minds, and so they agreed. Infuriated, the gods swiftly retaliated at this perceived offense, and struck the village with a devastating storm. The helpless villagers turned to Krishna for shelter and protection. Exhibiting his inconceivable powers, Krishna mystically lifted a large hill (Govardhan hill) into the air and directed the villagers to gather underneath it. The entire village came together and huddled under the umbrella-like hill as the storm raged around them. When the gods witnessed this miracle, they were stunned. Penitent, they withdrew the storm, begged Krishna for forgiveness, and accepted his supremacy. From that point on, Krishna has come to be glorified as Giridhari, "lifter of the hill."

On Govardhan Puja, devotees recount this story, create small hillocks out of cow dung that symbolize the Govardhan Hill, decorate it, offer elaborately cooked dishes and offer their respects. In Krishna temples around the world, devotees recall the childhood pastimes of Krishna, sing kirtan (devotional songs) and dance to the wee hours of the morning.

The photo below shows a scene from Govardhan Puja celebrations at a temple in Los Angeles, California. Credit: Goloka Bolte

govardhan puja

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Widespread discrimination has forced hundreds of Pakistani Hindu families to migrate to India over the last couple of years. For many of these Pakistani Hindus who were unable to publicly celebrate Diwali in Pakistan, this is their first Diwali celebration after decades.

“Though there were few earthen lamps and only a handful of sweets and crackers, it was Diwali in India, which is where I belong. Nobody could say anything to me if my tent was illuminated with lamps,” says Hirani, a Pakistani Hindu who crossed into India in September last year. “We were pariahs in Pakistan. We could either covert to Islam or face wrath for just being Hindu. They don’t see us as Pakistani, but Hindustanis (Indians)," he continued.

Read more at FirstPost.

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-- Vinay Shah, Michigan

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@ DinTri : Real Diwali will be ..when light of knowledge lights up all houses ...

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Email your rangoli design or Diwali lights photo to religion@huffingtonpost.com or tweet us at @huffpostrelig using #diwali #mylights

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sikh diwali

-- Shamika Bains from Fremont, California

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@ PranaBusCons : @HuffPostRelig | #Diwali means light over darkness, knowledge o/ ignorance, truth o/ untruth. Its a time of peace, celebration, family &food

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Around the Web

DIWALI 2012 - Indian Festival of Lights

Diwali - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

When is Diwali in 2012? - When-Is.com

Diwali Calendar - Diwali 2012 - 2025

Happy Diwali 2012 - The Celebration of Lights - YouTube

Diwali 2012 Date - When is Diwali in 2012, 2013, 2014

When is Diwali 2012?