What makes a celebration special? Good food? Dancing? Family time? Gifts? A special story? Fireworks? Well, these key ingredients are part of the festival of Diwali which Hindus, Sikhs and Jains celebrate on 19th October. Catherine Scutt, Cornerstones consultant and Love to Celebrate expert explains the importance of the Hindu Diwali celebrations and how to share the traditions and stories of Diwali with children in schools.
What is Diwali?
The word ‘Diwali' derives from the Sanskrit ‘dīpāvaliḥ’ which means ‘a row of lights'. Light plays a huge part in Hindu Diwali celebrations. Houses and streets are strung with lights to welcome back Rama and Sita and to invite Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and good fortune, into each home. Festivities last for five days and mark the start of the Hindu New Year.
Diwali in school
The stories, traditions and celebrations that are part of Diwali are exciting and colourful, and a perfect starting point for children to explore Hindu beliefs. Here are some Diwali themes to explore with children.
1. The story of Rama and Sita
During 14 years of exile, Rama, Sita and Lakshmana lived happily in the forest, until a ten-headed demon tricked the trio and kidnapped the lovely Sita. A battle had to be fought and won, before Sita returned to Rama, with the help of the monkey god Hanuman. Lights welcomed the couple home. This Diwali story exudes the message that good ultimately triumphs over evil.
Children will love to learn the story of Rama and Sita and make Diva lamps to guide the main characters home. The universal theme of good overcoming evil can also inspire children's thinking. Encourage them to share real-life examples of good and evil and explore the idea further in stories from different religions.
Lakshmi is an important part of Diwali celebrations. The goddess of wealth and good fortune, whom Hindus believe is an incarnation of Sita, is worshipped by Hindus wishing to be blessed with good fortune. Hindus worship Lakshmi during Diwali and use decorations, patterns and meaningful objects to welcome her into their homes.
Children can give Indian sweets to visitors and research the meaning of Diwali decorations before decorating the doorway of the classroom with Lakshmi's footsteps, Diva lamps, lanterns and rangoli patterns.
3. Lakshmi Puja
Many Hindus celebrate Lakshmi Puja during Diwali, either at home or in the mandir. Worshippers place statues of Lakshmi and Ganesh on a shrine, prepare a puja set and put business records and bank books nearby, in the hope of good fortune for the coming business year. Worshippers also light candles and give offerings. Chanting, prayer and arti are all part of Lakshmi Puja.
If possible, invite a parent, carer or member of a Hindu mandir into school to share their experiences of puja with the children. Children can then compare the Lakshmi Puja to other forms of worship they are familiar with and spot any similarities and differences in religious traditions and practices.
4. Presents, family time and UK celebrations
Diwali is a time for celebrations in the home, mandir and wider community. Families give and receive gifts, especially sweet treats, and spend time celebrating together. Spectacular lights, firework displays, food and dancing, are all important parts of celebrations in many UK cities including Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leicester, London and Manchester.
Ask the children to search online for video clips and images of local Diwali celebrations. Encourage them to write imaginary diary entries, plan a Diwali celebration or compare Diwali celebrations with their own experiences of familiar festivals.
To help you share Diwali with your children, click the link below to download our free Diwali banner, glossary and rangoli patterns resource.
If you need help with your RE curriculum, click here to find out more about Cornerstones’ RE scheme, Love to Celebrate – 39 creative projects with supporting resources.