Hindu Americans Applaud Senators for New Resolution Recognizing Diwali
Washington, D.C. (October 14, 2011) - The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) applauded U.S. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) for introducing S. Res 291, “recogniz[ing] the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali” for Hindu, Jain, and Sikh Americans. The two co-chairs of the Senate India Caucus, John Cornyn (R-TX) and Mark Warner (D-VA), cosponsored the legislation along with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
"In recognition of the impressive contributions made by the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain communities in the United States, as well as the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali, I am very proud to sponsor a resolution in the United States Senate marking this special occasion and expressing our deepest respect for these communities,” said Senator Menendez. “Diwali also marks the beginning of the new year for many Hindus, and I hope you enjoy a healthy and peaceful festival of lights.”
Diwali which will be celebrated this year on October 26, is also known as the Festival of Lights. According to the resolution, "celebrants light small oil lamps, place them around the home, and pray for health, knowledge, peace, [and] wealth." The light symbolizes the effect spiritual knowledge has in removing the darkness of ignorance.
"Senator Menendez will continue to increase awareness in this country of a festival so important to millions of Hindu Americans with this resolution," said Jay Kansara, HAF's Associate Director based in Washington, D.C. "We urge other members of the Senate to demonstrate their support for the community by cosponsoring the resolution."
Many Hindus recognize Diwali as a day celebrating the return of Lord Rama (the incarnation of Lord Vishnu), his wife Sita, and brother Lakshman to their capital, Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile. The residents of Ayodhya, overjoyed at the return of their beloved king, lit lamps in his honor. Others commemorate Diwali as the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. For many, Diwali also marks the start of the new year with prayers being offered to Goddess Lakshmi, the deity symbolizing prosperity.
In addition to the spiritual significance the day holds for Hindus, Sikhs celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor, Jehangir, and Jains commemorate Diwali as the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana, or liberation, after his death in 527 B.C.E.
"As a long time resident of New Jersey and supporter of HAF, I am proud that Senator Menendez has introduced this Diwali resolution,' said Dr. Umesh Gidwani. "As the Senator of a state with approximately 300,000 Indian Americans, this is a nice way for Senator Menendez to reach out to his constituents in New Jersey. We hope this resolution draws more awareness to the significance that Hindu traditions weave into the diverse fabric of American culture."
Kansara said that increasing awareness of major Hindu festivals is necessary to establish a place for the Dharma traditions in the American mainstream. A Presidential proclamation would demonstrate the relevance of Diwali to Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. The Foundation has scheduled its annual National Teach Diwali in School Day
on October 24, 2011 as another front to raise awareness. Parents will be asked to give a presentation on Diwali in their children's classrooms using the HAF-provided toolkit
"While Diwali is widely celebrated within the Hindu American community, many of our neighbors, teachers, and friends don't know much about it," said Pooja Deopura, HAF Executive Council Member. "The National Teach Diwali in School Day
is a way for our members to engage their children's teachers and classmates with a fun Diwali-theme presentation using the Diwali Toolkit
complete with coloring pages, arts and crafts ideas, and classroom activities."