The Republic of India celebrates three national holidays: Republic Day (January 26), Independence Day (August 15) and Gandhi Jayanti, celebrated every year on October 2. On this day Indians mark the birth of Mohandas Mahatma Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948), considered the “father of the country” by most Indians. Celebrations include local and state festivities, prayer services, and other remembrances of Gandhi’s sacrifice for freedom from British rule in a unified India and his lifelong commitment to nonviolence.
Beyond the official secular holidays celebrated by Indians, there are several religious festivals and traditions that consume the attention of a large percentage of the population each year. Among the most colorful and boisterous is the Hindu festival known as Diwali (also known as Depawali, Dipavali, Dewali, Diwali, Divali, Dipotsavi, Dipapratipad). Diwali is the “festival of lights,” and in India is spread over five days in autumn and is scheduled according to the Hindu Lunar calendar. There are many different names for the days of Diwali in different regions of India (South & North India, East & West India) and in the different languages spoken in these regions (i.e. Hindi, Urdu, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Bengali).
Although primarily a Hindu holiday, Diwali marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year and its origins predate modern Hinduism. As such, activities are related to the diversity of meanings given to the festival by the various Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist sects who celebrate the holiday. Most celebrations center on the use of light, with candles, oil lamps, and electric lights decorating houses during this time. Sweets and other edibles are prepared, and pujas (worship) to various gods and ancestors are carried out, but people pray especially to Lakshmi, Goddess of wealth, light, prosperity and wisdom, and also to Ganesha, the 'Remover of Obstacles' and the 'Lord of Beginnings'.
One loud aspect of Diwali is the widespread use of fireworks and “crackers.” These celebratory devices of black powder and paper turn normally quiet villages and cities into raucous places of celebration. One day of Diwali is also afforded the honor of being a public holiday, a day off for government officials, schools, and banks.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Arnold P. Kaminsky, PhD, is professor of history at California State University, Long Beach, CA, and former chair of the Department of Asian and Asian American Studies. He was the founding director of the Yadunandan Center for India Studies at CSULB. A specialist on modern India and South Asia, his published works include The India Office: 1880–1910 and a number of articles and book chapters on the administrative history of India. Kaminsky has received numerous grants and fellowships to advance his research and engage in curricular design of Asia in the schools. He recently worked with the National Knowledge Commission of India to establish teacher education and higher education leadership collaboration between CSULB and Indian universities.
Roger D. Long, PhD, is professor of history at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, MI. His research focuses on India during the 20th century, particularly during the 1930s and 1940s, with special reference to the nationalist movement. He has edited a number of volumes, including The Founding of Pakistan: An Annotated Bibliography; The Man on the Spot: Essays on British Empire History; Charisma and Commitment in South Asian History: Essays Presented to Stanley Wolpert; The Political Career of Muhammad Ali Jinnah; and 'Dear Mr. Jinnah': Selected Correspondence and Speeches of Liaquat Ali Khan, 1937–1947.
An Encyclopedia of Life in the Republic
Edited by Arnold P. Kaminsky and Roger D. Long
Containing almost 250 entries written by scholars from around the world, this two-volume resource provides current, accurate, and useful information on the politics, economics, society, and cultures of India since 1947.