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October 23, 2012 > Diwali: Festival of Lights

Diwali: Festival of Lights

By Jessica Noel Flohr

As the days get shorter throughout autumn, cultures around the world begin their fall celebrations. Several religions and cultures have festivals in late fall and early winter that focus on the theme of light: pagan groups celebrate Yule, Christians have Christmas, and Judaism brings us Hanukah. Leading off the season is Diwali, a grand festival of lights observed by Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains.

The significance of Diwali varies according to culture and religion, but the overarching theme is good versus evil. Deepavali, the Sanskrit word from which Diwali originates, means "row of lamps." This refers to the small, earthen oil lamps lit during the five-day festival symbolizing the triumph of goodness. Similar to preparations for Chinese New Year, Diwali is a time for dressing up in nice, new clothes, thoroughly cleaning the home, and giving gifts. Fireworks light up the night sky and children feast on sweet treats.

Among Hindu communities, Diwali, also called Dipawali, was once a festival of the final harvest of the year. Devotees sought blessings from the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. Brightly lit lamps and freshly cleaned homes welcome the goddess.

There is some variation in the Diwali mythology among Hindu communities. Northern India focuses on the legend of King Rama's triumphant return to his kingdom after defeating the evil King Ravana. In southern India, the story is similar, with the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Naraka. Lord Vishnu and King Bali comprise yet another legend for the holiday's history. Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists each offer their own interpretation of legend and history.

Diwali is one of the most significant holy days in South Asia. The Bay Area, home to a large, diverse population, is host to several Diwali festivals. The Fremont Hindu Temple has expanded its celebration this year. Together with the Federation of Indian Associations, the Fremont Hindu Temple will be holding its Diwali Mela at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton on Saturday, October 27. This will be a full day of food, fun, music, and crafts along with a kid's corner and camel rides. A cultural program extends throughout the day, followed by an evening concert and fireworks show after sundown. Several competitions, divided by age group, will be held for fancy dress, dˇcor, and rangoli, a unique Indian folk art consisting of elaborate designs, usually on the floor or in courtyards.

The India Community Center in Milpitas has its own Diwali celebration from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. on October 27 as well. The evening opens with a dinner and karaoke performance, followed by a dance display and entertainment. From 8 p.m. on, a DJ will open the floor to attendees for a night of dancing. Tickets are available on the India Community Center website and range from $35 to $ 250. Group tickets for tables of ten range from $350 to $2,500. Childcare is available for children ages 2 to 10, at a rate of $15 per child. All proceeds support the India Community Center Senior Program.

India Community Center's Diwali Celebration
Saturday, October 27
5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.
525 Los Coches St., Milpitas
(408) 934-1130
Tickets: $35 - $250

Festival of Lights
Saturday, October 27
11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Alameda County Fairgrounds
4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton
(510) 659-0655
Entry Fee: $5 per person

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