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The Hindu festival of Divali

To reflect on the victory of light over darkness, good over bad, in the context of the Hindu new year festival of Divali.

by Caroline Donne

Suitable for Whole School (Pri)

Aims

To reflect on the victory of light over darkness, good over bad, in the context of the Hindu new year festival of Divali.

Preparation and materials

  • You may find it helpful to be familiar with the following background information:
    –  Divali (or Deepavali) means a row or string of lights. Divali is a festival lasting from one to five days. It is celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs at a time of the darkest night of the lunar month.
    –  For many Hindus Divali is the new year festival. It is the beginning of a new business year and prayers are said for a prosperous new year.
    –  Rituals and celebrations vary from region to region but the lighting of diva lamps (traditionally earthenware bowls filled with oil or butter, called ghee, with cotton wicks) is universal. The lamps symbolize the triumph of good over bad, light over darkness.
    –  Two stories are often told: the return of Rama and Sita to Ayodhya after the defeat of the demon Ravana; and the story of Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity), who traditionally blesses homes in which lamps have been lit to greet her.
  • You will need a diva lamp or lamps. These could be made in advance as a classroom activity. Take a lump of plasticine, salt dough or clay. Roll it into a ball and pull it into an oval shape. Use the thumb to make an indentation big enough to hold a nightlight/tealight. Pinch out one end of the lump to make a lip. Flatten the base so that it will stand alone. Leave the lamp to harden and then decorate it. Place a tealight in each lamp.
  • Alternatively, put a number of candles on stands which can be clearly seen.
  • (Optional) Make a pathway of diva lamps or candles at the front of the classroom/school hall, or down the centre of the school hall.
  • Children’s versions of the Rama and Sita story or the story of Lakshmi.

Assembly

  1. Think about the word ‘darkness’ and places that are dark. Ask for volunteers to list some dark places: bedrooms at night; under the bed; the streets in the evenings at this time of year; caves; a cinema before the film starts. Think about how you feel in dark places: scared, alone, excited, sad.

    Explain that places can be dark and our lives can feel dark, too, when sad, or frightening, or bad things happen. And when good things happen, our lives feel bright, like a light coming on.

    Think about what happens when you turn on a light in a dark place. Think about the words that describe that feeling: safe, hopeful, cheerful.
  2. Explain that at this time of year Hindus all over the world meet together for a special festival that celebrates the belief that good is stronger than bad, and they use light to celebrate this belief.

    The festival is called Divali, which means a row of lights. In the evenings Hindus light small lamps (called diva lamps) inside and outside their homes to show that light is stronger than darkness, good is stronger than bad. They send cards and they give presents and sweets to one another. They meet together in the temple to pray and give thanks.

    Explain that for many Hindus Divali is also the beginning of a new year, so it’s a time to think about plans for the months ahead, to make a new start and to be hopeful.
  3. Tell one of the Divali stories (see the ‘Preparation and materials’ section). If you tell the story of Rama and Sita, emphasize the point that this is a story of good being stronger than bad because Rama and Sita defeat the wicked demon Ravana.

Time for reflection

If you have lit diva lamps or candles, dim the electric lights and pull the curtains if you can, to create the effect of the light shining in the darkness.

Suggest to the children that they focus on the lights or candles and use the following words to help them to think or to pray about what they have heard.

Light shining in the darkness.

Light takes away the darkness.

Light brings hope.

God of light,
when things seem difficult
or when we’re frightened or sad,
help us to remember that light is stronger than darkness,
good is stronger than bad.

Song/music

‘Flickering candles in the night’ (Come and Praise, 114)

Publication date: October 2011   (Vol.13 No.10)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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