The religions of Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism share a common Festival of Light: Diwali (or the longer form Deepawali which means 'Row of Lamps')
by: Submitted photo CAL HABIG

Many religions have festivals in which lights - symbols of hope and goodness - figure prominently.

For Christians, Christmas is usually celebrated with candles and lights on trees and stories of a star leading the Magi to the Christ Child.

For Jews, December holds Hanukkah, the story of the miraculous eight-day supply of oil that was provided at the rededication of the temple after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BC. The nightly lighting of a menorah commemorates that event.

The religions of Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism share a common Festival of Light: Diwali (or the longer form Deepawali which means 'Row of Lamps'). This year Diwali will be celebrated worldwide on Oct. 26.

While this five-day festival has many facets, at its core it is a celebration of the return of Lord Rama from exile.

Rama is a central character is the early Hindu scripture Ramayana (literally 'Rama's Journey'). Rama is depicted as the ideal man and his marriage to his wife Sita is depicted as the ideal marriage. Rama is seen as the human incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. In Hindu religious teaching, Vishnu came in human form, in part, to vanquish the 10-headed demon-king of Sri Lanka, Ravana.

Rama is heir to his father's throne, but the mother of his stepbrother compels the king to banish Rama into the forest for 14 years. Because Rama is the model of morality, he obeys even a wrong order because it came from the king. His wife Siti accompanies him, and while they are in exile in the forest, the demon-king Ravana kidnaps Siti and takes her to Sri Lanka where he woos her. Rama seeks out Siti (accompanied by monkeys and bears) and eventually vanquishes Ravana in hand-to-hand combat.

After his exile has ended, Rama returns to Ayodhya, the capital of the ancient kingdom of Awadh (located in present day northern India). When he arrives, he is greeted with lamps in the windows and the sound of firecrackers because good has triumphed over evil. Rama is crowned king and an idyllic period of happiness, peace, prosperity and justice (a period known as Rama Rajya) begins. Diwali is such a significant day that many Hindu businesses begin their annual fiscal year on this day.

Because Diwali often occurs near the western holiday of Halloween, it should also be noted that many Hindus believe that the spirits of the deceased return to visit their families during this period, and the lights that are lit are also intended to light the way for the spirits to return.

Today Diwali not only commemorates that return of Rama, but is also an annual reminder of the triumph of good over evil and hope over despair. As lights are lit, incense is hung and firecrackers are sounded, it is a call to recommit oneself to good deeds.

There are about 1.5 million Hindus, 500,000 Sikhs and 100,000 Jains living in the United States. Diwali will be celebrated at (among other places) the Portland Hindu Temple in Tigard at 7 p.m.

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