The festival of Diwali what is it and how to get it into schools

Screenshot(179)Hindu Students Association International is now working with several other NYC based Hindu Organizations to get the Hindu holiday of Diwali to become an official school holiday. To make this dream a reality we need internal unity, but also external recognition. HSAI along with other groups have devised a plan for organizing the NYC Hindu community for action.  But how are we going to endear the non-Hindus to our cause?  Non-Hindus may have no idea what the festival of Diwali is all about, but perhaps if they new a little more they would be more likely to want to join us in celebrating.


Friday, 04/10/15 – HSAI joined with more than two dozen other organizations and nearly 200 Hindus to demonstrate outside City Hall for the inclusion of Hindu holidays in NYC public schools. The event made it to NY1 News (See Here) and was covered by the Times of Guyana (See Here). Big thanks to Sitangshu Guha and the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council (BHBCUC) for organizing the event. Pictures and press release can be found here:

Friday, April 24, 2015 – A delegation of different Hindu Organizations met with the NYC Commissioner’s Office – Community Affairs Unit Mr. Marco A. Carrion. Mr. Carrion was assisted by Ms. Halen Ho, Director of the Queens Community Affairs Unit. The delegation handed over a few documents supporting Hindu Holidays in NYC schools. While the commission was receptive to our request, they said it could not be fulfilled at this time and they suggested the Hindu community politically organize and attract the attention of city politicians who might be favorable to the idea of adding Hindu holidays to the school calendar.

 SUNDAY – 08/30/15 – QUEENS NEW YORK – HSAI Attends 20th Annual “Hindu Unity Day” put on by the Indian American Intellectuals Forum (IAIF). IAIF is one of the groups supporting the Hindu Holidays Campaign. HSAI had the opportunity to set up a table at the event for the HINDU HOLIDAYS CAMPAIGN.  At this Hindu Unity Day event, HSAI collected hundreds of signatures and many donations for the campaign which will be used to begin the process of courting the NYC political machine to make this vision a reality. See Full Article Here:


“Dear members of The Hindu Students Association International & fellow Hindu Citizens.

It is incredible to see the children and younger generations of the Hindu diaspora take the initiative to put Hindu holidays on the school calendar. The organizations of the previous generation focused on keeping the culture and religion alive in this country. They wanted future generations and themselves not to lose sight of our religious heritage. Integrating Hindu holidays is the next step into creating a true melting pot. Hinduism is no longer just the religion of an immigrant. Everyday our American-born children practice it while contributing to society. Over 80,000 New Yorkers practice varieties of Hinduism, actively. The religion is diverse and the people who worship have varied backgrounds and heritage.

Many from the South Indian community actively engage with government on a daily basis. They fundraise for political campaigns. They have the officials at the state and city levels frequent their events. However, they have warped the goal of celebrating our religion to one of handshakes and photo-ops. There is loss of unification as more of these organizations appear one after another. As I mentioned above Hinduism is a diverse religion, but to become more integrated in American culture, it needs the support of all Hindus.

The HSAI is a step in the right direction. Their goal is a simple one to understand but, difficult to accomplish and we should support them in any way we can.


Sushma Kotahwala”



When we met with the NYC Commissioner’s Office back in April, we were given some pointers on how other groups (such as NYC Muslims) were able to get their holidays officially recognized.  The officers at the Community Affairs department explained that we need to get the attention NYC’s elected officials, showing them that Hindus are a voting populace who are willing to reward those seeking office with votes.  Other groups were able to show city officials that they were serious about getting their holidays into our schools by showing that their community took off from work and school in mass on certain dates. Having empty seats in classrooms and at places of work shows the community the strength of your presence and your determination… all through your absence!  In light of this information, several Hindu groups have crafted the below flier, encouraging NYC Hindus to take off November 10th, 2015 to celebrate Diwali.  This flier is being printed and distributed at temples in the NYC Area.  We encourage you to read the flier and distribute it through either print or electronic media. (Download Flier PDF Here: Diwali Flier)



Christians, Muslims & Jews Have Them…
Why Not Hindus?

We Asked The Mayor’s Office…
We Got Rejected

Now We Need To Show Them We Are Determined And United


We are requesting all the Hindus around NYC to take a day off from your work or school on the 10th of November 2015 (November 11th is Veterans Day Holiday) to celebrate ‘Diwali’, the largest Hindu Festival of Light. NYC is home to nearly 1 million Hindus, who came from many nations including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Malaysia Nepal, Guyana, Trinidad, Surinam, South Africa, Europe and Australia. There are an estimated 2.5 million Hindus living in the United States, nearly 1 million of them living here in the NYC area. American Hindus have the highest rates of educational attainment and household income among all religious communities in America. We are a peaceful and industrious addition to the American landscape. We are also the world’s oldest religion and third largest. Jews, Muslims and Christians have been provided official school holidays in NYC, but Hindus don’t have that. Official requests to the Mayor’s office to add Hindu Holidays to the NYC school calendar have been denied. We and our children need a whole day of fasting and prayer to prepare for our Diwali celebration. Your one day absence will create awareness and will prove that the Hindus in NYC are united for the demand of Hindu holidays at NYC schools, and will pressurize the Mayor and other city officials to consider our demand. Thank you for your co-operation.

American Hindu Council; BHBCUC, USA; JFH; IAIF; HLF; HSAI:; Find “Hindu Learning Foundation” On Facebook


If we want NYC politicians and the NYC community to take our requests for Diwali in our schools seriously, we are going to have to give them more than a day of absence.  How is anyone going to help us if they don’t even know what Diwali is all about.  Maybe if people learned a little more about Diwali they would actually like it and want to help us. We are going to have to create an alluring information packet on the festival which presents it in a straightforward and logical way which non-Hindus can easily grasp. While more research needs to be done, here is some information HSAI members have put together on Diwali so far.

Diwali is a 5 night festival which takes place in mid to late autumn, beginning on the last night of the Hindu month of Ashvin and goes on into the Hindu month of  Kartika.  The highest point of the celebration takes place on the third day which commemorates the birth of goddess Lakshmi, the personification of spiritual, familial and material wealth and success. Hindus also venerate the Hindu god of medicine Dhanvantari on this day since he was born at the same time as Lakshmi. Lakshmi and Dhanvantari’s birth story is found in the Puranas which are anthologies on the backgrounds and histories of the gods, sages and heroes of Hinduism. According to the Agni and Padma Puranas, there was a war in heaven between the demons and the gods and the gods lost this war. The god Vishnu came up with a plan to trick the demons into churning the ocean which would bring up the amrita, a powerful drink which the gods could use to regain their strength and defeat the demons. As the gods and the demons churned the ocean, the amritra was not the only thing to float up from the ocean’s depths; many gods arose from the waters and took the side of the gods against the demons.  One of these gods to arise from the ocean was the goddess Lakshmi, who fell in love with and married Vishnu. With the help of the gods who arose from the ocean and the amritra, the gods were able to defeat the demons and regain heaven. Lakshmi’s birth took place at a time when good overcame evil, when light overtook dark, and so the entirety of Diwali is a celebration of the triumph of righteousness and goodness over unrighteousness and wickedness.


The Manifestation Of Goddess Lakshmi

Bhisma expressed his desire to know about the manifestation of goddess Lakshmi. Pulastya replied– Once, after being defeated by the demons, the deities went to Lord Vishnu and sought his help. Lord Vishnu instructed them to collect all the medicinal herbs, and put them in the Ksheersagar, so that after the churning of the ocean ambrosia could be retrieved.Lord Vishnu also advised them to use the Mandar mountain as a Churner and the serpent–Sheshnag as a rope for churning the ocean.The deities then reached an agreement with the demons according to which both the groups were supposed to unitedly churn the ocean. The great Mandar mountain was uprooted and placed on the back of the tortoise–the embodiment of Lord Vishnu. Sheshnag coiled around that mountain and both the ends were held by the demons and the deities respectively. The deities intelligently chose the tail-end, while the demons in their foolishness chose the mouth-end. The venom spilled by Sheshnag destroyed the power and strength off the demons. When the process of Churning began, the first thing to emerge from the sea-bed was Kamdhenu–the holy cow. The deities claimed the ownership of this divine cow. Subsequently, Varuni (intoxicating drink) emerged from the sea-bed, which was claimed by the ignorant demons. During the process of ocean-churning, various kinds of things emerged out from the ocean–Parijat, sixty crore apsaras, the moon and Kalkut (poison), which were distributed among the demons and the deities. Lord Mahadeva drank the Kalkut when he saw that there was no taker for it.

The churning of ocean also resulted into the manifestation of ambrosia-pot, Uchchaishrava (horse) and Airavat (elephant). Ultimately, goddess Lakshmi manifested herself, seated on a lotus. The deities eulogised her by chanting the mantras of Sri Sukta. The deities were desirous of having goddess Lakshmi on their side, so were the demons, but Lord Brahma instructed Vishnu to accept her as his consort. The demons became furious and snatched the ambrosia-pot from the hands of Sage Dhanvantari. Lord Vishnu then disguised himself as the most enchanting woman and fooled the demons into giving back the ambrosia-pot. Lord Vishnu gave the pot to the deities who became immortal after drinking ambrosia. A tremendous battle was fought between the demons and the deities. But, the demons were defeated in this battle and fled to the netherworld to protect their lives. The deities eulogised Lord Vishnu and returned to heaven.

The Turtle

Many years ago there was a war between the devas (gods) and the daityas (demons) and the gods lost this war. They prayed to Vishnu to rescue them from the oppression of the demons. Vishnu told Brahma and the other gods that they should have a temporary truce with the demons. The two sides should get together to churn the ocean. Vishnu would ensure that the devas benefited more from this churning of the ocean than the daityas did.

The truce was agreed upon and the two sides got ready to churn the ocean. The mountain Mandara was used as a churning rod and great sake Vasuki as the rope for churning. The devas grasped Vasuki’s tail and the daityas grasped Vasuki’s head. But as the churning began, the mountain Mandara which had no base, started to get immersed in the ocean. What was to be done? Lord Vishnu came to the rescue. He adopted the form of a turtle and the peak was balanced on the turtle’s back.

As the churning continued, terrible poison named kalkuta emerged from the depths of the ocean and was swallowed by Shiva. Shiva’s throat became blue from this poison and he is therefore known as Nilakantha, blue of throat. The goddess Varunai, the goddess of wine (sura), came out next. The gods readily accepted her and thus they came to be known as suras. But the demons rejected Varunai and were therefore known as asuras. She was followed by the Parijata tree, a beautiful tree that came to occupy the pride of place in Indra’s garden. A jewel named koustubha emerged and was accepted by Vishnu as his adornment. Three wonderful animals came out next – the cow Kapila, the horse Ucchaishrava and the elephant Airavata. They were followed by the apsaras, beautiful women who became the dancers of heaven. They were known as apsaras because they emerged from ap (water). The goddess Lakshmi or Sri came out next and was united with Vishnu.

Finally, Dhanvantari emerged with a pot of amrita (the life – giving drink) in his hands. Dhanvantari was the originator of medicine (ayurveda). The daityas led by Jambha gave half of the amrita to the devas and departed with the remaining half.

But Vishnu quickly adopted the form of a beautiful woman. So beautiful was the woman that the demons were charmed. “Pretty lady,” they said. ” Take the amrita and serve it to us. Marry us.”

Vishnu accepted the amrita, but he had no intention of giving it to the demons. He served it to the gods instead. There was only one demon who was somewhat clever. His name was Rahu. He adopted the form of Chandra, the moon-god, and succeeded in drinking some of the amrita. The sun-god and the moon-god noticed what was happening and reported it to Vishnu. Vishnu thereupon cut off Rahu’s head with a sword.

But Rahu had drunk the amrita, so he could not die. He prayed to Vishnu and Vishnu granted him a boon. The boon was that occasionally Rahu would be permitted to swallow up the sun and the complained about him. You can see this happening at the time of the solar and the lunar eclipses. People who give alms during such eclipses are blessed.

The gods obtained the amrita and the demons did not. Thus, the gods became more powerful than the demons. They defeated the demons and regained heaven.

The Story Of Ram & Sita In Diwali

To symbolize the victory of “light”, the festival of Diwali is marked by the lighting of large numbers of diyas (oil lamps) and firework displays. Tales of the triumphs of many Hindu heroes are recounted and celebrated during this time, but the most popular hero theme for Diwali is the story of Ram and his defeat of the wicked king Ravana. Ram was a prince and the 8th avatar (human personification) of the god Vishnu, the lord of preservation who saves humanity from moral and social decay. The story of Ram and his journeys along with his wife Sita are found in the Hindu Epic of the Ramayana.  In the Ramayana, Hindus find the virtues of Ram and Sita pitted against the ignobilities of those who rule the world at that time.  The story has Ram and Sita exiled to the forest and Sita kidnapped by the dubious king Ravana.  As Ram struggles to save his love Sita, he builds an army by gaining the trust of several tribes and races, and finally vanquishes king Ravana and is reunited with Sita. Now a warrior and king in his own right, Ram returns to the kingdom of his exile and regains the thrown, ushering in a golden age of peace and prosperity. According to the Padma Purana, Ram’s return to his kingdom of Ayhodya was celebrate by the mass lighting of diyas, as is done at Diwali, thus the return of Ram to his kingdom and the holiday of Diwali are often viewed as synonymous by many Hindus. Anyone interested in learning more about the story of Ram may want to purchase a copy of the Ramayana by C. Rajagopalachari  (see here) or view a free version of the Ramayana online as the one below [ENGLISH SUBTITLES].  Distributions of the Ramayna at school and public viewings of the Ramayana would be a good way to get New Yorkers interested in Diwali.


Once, Sages requested Suta to describe about Sri Rama’s return from Lanka. Suta narrated the same tale, which Sheshnag had once told Vatsyayan. Sheshnag said–After the killing of demon king Ravana, Sri Rama appointed Vibhishan as the king of Lanka. He then decided to return to Ayodhya on Pushpak-Vimana, which Vibhishan had presented to him. He along with Sita, Lakshman, Sugreev and Hanuman boarded the aircraft and flew towards Ayodhya.The earth looked beautiful from such a high altitude and Sri Rama was continuously describing about the importance of various places over which the aircraft flew. As the aircraft was about to enter the airspace of Ayodhya, Sri Rama recognized Bharata, who was living at Nandigram at that time. Bharata had vowed not to enter Ayodhya till the return of Sri Rama, hence he stayed at Nandigram situated at the outskirts of Ayodhya awaiting Sri Rama’s return. He led an austere life as the result of which he had become weak and feeble.

On seeing Bharata, Sri Rama instructed Hanuman to inform him about his (Rama’s) arrival. Hanuman went to the hermitage of Bharata and informed him about Sri Rama’s arrival. Bharata’s joy knew no bound and he expressed his desire to reward Hanuman for bringing such auspicious news. Bharata then accompanied Hanuman and went to meet Sri Rama. Sri Rama’s heart was filled with grief when he saw Bharata, who looked like a hermit in his ‘Valkal’ and ‘Kaupin’. On the other hand Bharata cursed himself for being the cause of Sri Rama’s miseries. Bharata asked for Sri Rama’s forgiveness and said—’O Lord! You had to go into exile only because of me. I can never be absolved of my sin.’

Sri Rama consoled him and after taking Bharata into his embrace enquired about his welfare. He told Bharata that he had to undergo the sufferings of exile because of his own destiny. ‘You are not at fault. Don’t curse yourself for my misery.’ said Sri Rama. At last all of them including Bharata boarded Pushpak Vimana and the aircraft took- off for Ayodhya.Continuing with Sri Rama’s tale, Sheshnag said–When Sumanth brought the news of Sri Rama’s arrival at Ayodhya, people danced in joy, Preparations started being made for Sri Rama’s grand reception. The whole city of Ayodhya was decorated with rows of lighted lamps.

Sri Rama and Sita alighted from the Pushpak Vimana and both of them were carried in a palanquin to the palace. People stood in queues on both sides of the road with folded hands. Sri Rama blessed them by raising his hand. First of all Rama went to meet Kaikayi who was full of remorse and guilt. Sri Rama consoled her and then went to meet Sumitra to pay his obeisance to her. At last, he went to meet his own mother–Kaushalya, who was dying to see him. Kaushalya blessed Sri Rama, Sita and Lakshman. Bharata then instructed the royal astrologers to decide upon an auspicious moment for Sri Rama’s coronation. Thus Sri Rama became the king of Ayodhya. During his reign peace and prosperity prevailed everywhere. People were virtuous and there was no sign of sin.


Momentum for Hindu Holidays in NYC schools is growing, but there is still a great deal of work ahead.  We are asking that all NYC Hindus join us in taking the date of November 10th 2015 off from your work or school, citing your celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali as the reason.  We need to show the world that we are united and determined when it comes to our religion, only then will we get equal footing with those groups who are already represented in the school calendar. We also need to take steps in educating the non-Hindu community about this beautiful holiday and invite them to join us in celebration.