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Festivals of Lights: Hinduism, Judaims, and Buddhism
Transcript of Festivals of Lights: Hinduism, Judaims, and Buddhism
Hinduism, Judaism, and Buddhism
World Religions 1020
A plethora of religious holidays are celebrated by groups of people across the world. While the duration of the holiday and reasoning behind it may vary, people celebrate these holy times because they hold a special meaning to that group. For the three Festivals of Lights, one of the meanings is to celebrate a deity or an act of divinity.
Role of the Divine
With all religions comes rituals, and even more specific rituals during a spiritual holiday. Big or small, religious rituals can be used to show a person's faith and celebrate the divine. In each of the three Festivals of Lights, light plays a central role in the rituals to venerate what each particular religion deems holy.
Rituals of the Festivals
For numerous cultures, light is a symbol of happiness, life, and divinity, making it one of the central themes in many of the world's religions. Light has come to play a key role in holidays and festivals, especially in the five-day Hindu festival of Diwali, the 8-day Jewish festival of Hanukkah, and the Buddhist festival of Loy Krathong. The significance of light can be compared in these three festivals by looking at the role of the divine, the reasoning for the lights, and the rituals that take place during the festival.
The Festivals of Lights
Light is universally seen in a positive manner for most cultures. This concurs with the meaning of light in Diwali, Hanukkah, and Loy Krathong, and its sense of being seen renewal as a source of renewal. In Diwali and Hanukkah, in particular, it celebrates the victory of good over evil and signifies the idea of light over dark. In each of these festivals, candles are lit to celebrate the success of the good or the release of the bad.
Reason for Lights
While each of the religions compared were very different in some manners, such as being polytheistic versus monotheistic or specific rituals and beliefs, similarities can be found in the central meaning of their holidays. While looking at these Festivals of Lights, one can see that light is portrays as good, divine, and triumphant. This can be further analyzed by looking at the role the divine plays in the history of the festival, the symbol of lights, and the rituals involved with each festival.
Loy Krathong is a Buddhist festival primarily celebrated in Northern Thailand, in areas like Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The legend says that Loy Krathong came about in the 14th Century when Nama Noppomas, consort of the King, created the first krathong, a floating leaf cup. She gave it to the King who lit it and floated it down the river. The festival honors Phra Mae Kong Ka, the Goddess of Water. The people show their gratitude toward the Goddess and thank her for the plentiful water, as well as, apologize for the growing pollution and float away ill fortune. Other legends of Krathong are more directly related to Buddha. The most popular is that of showing respects to the footprint of Buddha on the beach of Naramaha River, and show respect to the great Serpent and people of the water realm after Buddha's visit. In a more general sense, it can also be seen to show respect to Buddha, and pay respects to one's ancestors. (5)
Of the many legends behind the celebration of Diwali the most common is that of the return of Lord Rama of Ayodhya and his wife Sita. It is said that after a 14 year exile from his home, Lord Rama, who is the seventh incarnation of the Lord Vishnu, rescued Sita from the evil King Ravan of Lanka with the help of Hanuman, the Monkey God. Lord Rama and Sita were welcomed back into the city with rows of candles lighting their path signifying the triumph of good over evil. The entire tale can be found in the Indian epic
. Along with the celebration of Lord Rama, the Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha are also central figures of Diwali. Lakshmi being the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity and Ganesha being the God of Wisdom and Luck. Both are worshiped and eagerly welcomed into the homes of people during this time of celebration with hopes to bring about wealth and luck in the future.(2)
Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BC. While it is considered one of the "less important" Jewish holidays and honors an event rather than a deity directly, it still has a divine factor involved. The story goes to say that after the Jewish people regained control of the Temple from the Syrian-Greek soldiers, they were determined to purify the Temple because of its spiritual defilement by burning ritual oil. There was only enough oil for the candle to stay lit for one day, but by a miracle, the candle burned for eight whole days. This miracle proved to them that God has again looked out for and protected His people. (6)
Being a five-day festival, each day of Diwali entails its own rituals, and each ritual is dependent on the particular sect and beliefs of the family. On the first day, lights are lit throughout the night, and the Goddess Lakshmi is welcomed into the homes of the people through offerings and creating traditional motifs adorning the entrances of their homes. At the end of the night, a Lakshmi-Puja is conducted where worship of Goddess Lakshmi takes place by singing devotional songs and lighting small diyas to drive away the evil spirits. On the second day, people bathe before sunrise and apply a special oil as a cleansing, and the day is spent bursting firecrackers in anticipation for the following day. The third day is the main day of the festival, the return of Lord Rama and Sita. On this day, Goddess Lakshmi is again worshiped to bring about good fortune, and diyas are again lit throughout the day and night. A Govardhan-Puja is performed on the fourth day, which is the bathing of the statues of the gods in milk, and then dressing and adorning them in nice clothing and jewels. This is done in both the temples and the small shrines within each home. On the final day of Diwali, a Gudi Padwa is performed between the husband and his wife to show the love and devotion between the two. Throughout the festival, diyas are constantly lit as a reminder of the overall message of light defeating dark. (1)
The festival of Loy Krathong is a one night event, that has veered off into being more of a multiple day party that attracts thousands of tourists every year. However, some of the traditions are still intact. The krathongs are still made of banana leaf or bread so that the festival is not adding more pollution to the river, and the paying of respect to the Goddess of Water by the release of a krathong is a ritual in itself. The people also "send off" their negative atmosphere and attitude through a ritual that entails the clipping of one's nails or a lock of hair. This is then placed in the krathong, along with the lit candle, to be released solidifying the removal of ill thought and bad luck. (4,5)
During Diwali, people light diyas, an oil lamp usually made from clay with a wick of cotton that has been dipped in ghee, and they decorate their homes with them, making Diwali the biggest and brightest festival in India. These diyas, along with other candles and fireworks celebrate the victory of Lord Rama signifying that good always prevails over evil. Given that Hinduism uses a lunar calendar, the day of Diwali falls on the darkest new moon of the month, again, restating the need for light in order to make it though the darkness. (1)
This Festival of Lights deals with the lighting of a menorah, the nine-branched candelabrum, during the eight-day holiday. Each night a new candle, of the eight, is lit using the shamash, the nineth candle, symbolizing the eight days the flame stayed lit when the Jewish people reclaimed the Temple, even though there was only enough oil for one day. The symbol of the burning candles shows the idea of light over evil, and the miracle that restated that God, once again, protected His people. (3)
Along with the floating of the lit krathongs in the river, some light lanterns and release them into the sky. No matter what the vessel of the light it, the message is still the same. The burning candle is to venerate the Buddha, Goddess of Water, one's family ancestors, and so on, while the release of the krathong or lanterns signifies the release of hatred and anger. Light still continues to have the universal meaning of joy in this upbeat festival. (4)
Lord Rama and Sita
Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesha
Reclaiming of the Temple
Buddha and Goddess of Water
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2) "Diwali." Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopaedia Britannica Online Academic Edition. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2015. <http://academic.eb.com/EBchecked/topic/166786/Diwali>.
3) "Festival of lights." Los Angeles Business Journal 6 Dec. 2004: 3. Business Insights: Essentials. Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
4) "Loy Kratong Festival." Loy Kratong Festival. Web. 17 Apr. 2015. <http://www.grad.cmu.ac.th/eng/index.php/loy-kratong-festival>.
5) "Loy Krathong, Yee Peng, Festival of Lights." Chiang Mai Best. Web. 17 Apr. 2015. <http://chiangmaibest.com/loy-krathong-yee-peng/>.
6) Melton, J. Gordon. Religious Celebrations : An Encyclopedia Of Holidays, Festivals, Solemn Observances, And Spiritual Commemorations. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2011. eBook Academic Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 17 Apr. 2015.
Hanukkah is celebrated to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days instead of just one, and that is why the lighting of the candles plays such an important part in this festival. Each night one candles is light, starting with the shamash and the first Hanukkah candle on the first night, and each subsequent candle is lit using the shamash from the right to left like Hebrew writing in the following days. Before lighting the candles for the night, a blessing and prayer is sung for God while holding the shamash, and then the candles are lit from newest to oldest. The blessing said the first night is different from the blessing sung the other nights. After the lighting is completed for the night, some families gather to sing Hanukkah songs, as well as, play dreidel, a Jewish variation on the teetotum. (3,6)