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US House Recognizes S. Asian Festival Of Lights

U.S. House Recognizes South Asian Festival of Lights

As South Asian Americans prepared for one of their biggest traditional holidays, legislators in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a resolution recognizing the significance of Diwali, the "festival of lights."

The resolution (H. Res. 747) passed by a vote of 358-0 on October 29, with 204 Democrats and 154 Republicans supporting it.

The action not only acknowledges an important feast in the Hindu, Sikh and Jain religions, but recognizes the importance of the South Asian community in the United States.

South Carolina Representative Joe Wilson, who sponsored the resolution, said it marks "the international, religious and historical importance of the festival of Diwali as well as the religious diversity in India and throughout the world." He said the resolution also "recognizes the importance of Indian Americans -- a strong and vibrant immigrant community."

"Diwali is celebrated as victory of good over evil for some and as a remembrance of liberation for others," John Tanner of Tennessee said. "[I]t is a tribute to the diversity of India and to our country that we have such a rich religious heritage in our societies. By celebrating Diwali, we also are celebrating this diversity, a shared value that has brought the United States and India closer together throughout the years," he added.

More than 2 million people celebrate Diwali in the United States.


Diwali, from the Sanskrit deepavali or "row of lamps," is associated chiefly with the Hindu religion. The goddess Lakshmi and god Ganesh are worshipped for prosperity and good fortune, and lamps are lit to signify the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil. Its date varies because it falls on the new moon in the Hindu month of Kartik (October/November).

The feast coincides with the day on which Jains believe Lord Mahavira, founder of Jainism, attained enlightenment, so Jains also celebrate it.

Sikhs observe Diwali in association with historical events in their religion: Bandi Chor Diwas -- the release of the sixth Sikh Guru Hargobind ji from imprisonment by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir -- and the martyrdom of scholar Bhai Mani Singh.

In the United States, Indian Americans come together to celebrate Diwali just as they do in India. Lamps around the house are lit to attract blessings and harmony. Prayers are offered at home and in temples. Families come together, exchange gifts, give traditional sweets to friends and associates, and have a good time.

Diwali melas, or fairs, are held across the country wherever there is a concentration of Indian Americans: from California to New York, New Jersey, Texas and Georgia. Vendors sell typical Diwali gifts of ethnic clothing, jewelry, Hindi music CDs and DVDs of Bollywood films. Hindi singers and folk artists perform; bhangra is danced.

B. P. Shah, a professor of electrical engineering at the University of the District of Columbia helped organize an annual Diwali mela in the nation's capital. He told USINFO the November 3 event drew about 7,000 people despite chilly weather. The 15-year-old mela is sponsored by the Association of United Hindu & Jain Temples (UHJT). It offered food, music and shopping and ended with a large fireworks display.

Shah, who has lived in the United States since 1958, devotes his extra time to serving the community through India House of Worship in Silver Spring, Maryland, which provides a community center for Indian Americans of all religions and regions. It is among the 14 UHJT area co-organizers of Diwali events.

"This celebration presents all of us with the opportunity to reflect on the many ways in which people, history and traditions of India, and elsewhere in South Asia, have contributed to the rich cultural mosaic that is the United States of America," Florida congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor before the resolution was passed. She added, "America's extraordinary diversity is one of our nation's most enduring strengths."


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