Hindus around the world celebrated the largest holiday of their faith as the holiday Diwali started last Friday.
Diwali, or Deepwali, is the Hindu New Year, according to the lunar calendar. It is also known as the Festival of Lights, particularly for its main practice of lighting lamps known as Diyas.
The holiday was especially recognized in many areas of Queens such as Jackson Heights, Bellerose, and Jamaica. The neighborhoods are known for their large Indian or Guyanese Hindu communities.
Andrew Shamsheer, a resident of Jamaica, Queens discussed the importance of the holiday in his Guyanese-American neighborhood. The accounting major shared some of the traditions associated with the holiday.
“We light lights known as Diyas,” he said. “The purpose of [the lights] is to clear out evil.”
Shamsheer explained that it is usually a family oriented event, followed by a more communal meeting at Davalayam which is a Hindu temple.
He also explained that Hindus “pray to Mother Laksmhi on this day for wealth, prosper, and health for their family.”
With a growing population in the US over the last 30 years, Diwali was first celebrated in the White House in 2003 during the Bush administration. This came after an initiative by the Indian community that the holiday be nationally recognized. The tradition has since carried over into the next administration.
President Obama, who is currently visiting India, took the time to celebrate the holiday at Holy Name High School in Mumbai. The president and the first lady lit Diyas and danced to traditional songs with students, as reported by The Hindu, India’s national newspaper.
Professor S. Mitra Kalita, an adjunct professor at St. Johns, who lived in India for over two years, explained that the holiday is for more than just Hindus and is also recognized by some Sikhs and Christians.
“In India, Diwali cannot be escaped,” she said, “there are flowers and fireworks everywhere. Roads are jammed for parties and excursions.”
Kalita also said that Indians of other faiths living in America but said “how the holiday is celebrated varies region to region. She noted that in her Queens neighborhood, the holidays are intermingled and while signs for Diwali were up this week, Christmas lights will be up soon.
While she considers the traditional Jan. 1 to be her actual New Year, Kalita says that she views the holiday as a good time to reflect and set goals.