Mini-unit
Subtopic: Diwali-Hindu New Year
Grade level: 4-6
Author: J. Madoc Powell

Background:

 

There are over 450 million people consider who themselves to be Hindus. India is

populated by the majority of these individuals. About 84 percent of the population in India is

Hindu. Hinduism is a very broad religion, full of many different beliefs, practices, and followers.

Even with many diverse forms of worship, Hindus share a peaceful coexistence with each other.

 

Although many Hindus claim to have a common history, there does not seem to be any

main doctrinal guidelines to Hinduism. Nor does this religion have a standard set of scripture. A

set of writings that are commonly looked upon as containing valued information are call the

Vedas. The Vedas were said to have been created around 1500-1200 B. C. The original Vedas

were written in a very old form of Sanskrit. These writings center on themes such as theology,

mythology, ritual, laws, social order, and many other topics. Most of the mythology and religion

found in Hinduism comes from two great Sanskript epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana,

which are said to have been written between 400 B. C. and 400 A. D.

 

Hinduism theology varies greatly. For the most part, it would be said to fall into the

category of polytheism. Individuals worship a variety of gods and goddesses. Some of the main

deities of the Hindu religion are Vishnu, Shiva, Kali, and Lakshmi. On the other hand, some

could consider Hinduism to be monotheistic. There are those who seek a oneness with the

universe, or Brahma. These individuals seek to rise above good and evil, pleasure and pain, and

joy and sorrow. So, it appears that Hinduism grants a lot of freedom to those who wish to call

themselves Hindus.

 

Although there is not a set religious leader at the head of all those who claim Hinduism,

there is a set caste system. This system places all Hindus into one of five social categories. There

are strict rules about how to interact with members of a different caste. The Brahmans are at the

top of the caste system. These people are the priests and scholars. Second, the Kshatriyas, or

temporal rulers, are the next most respected members of society. Members of the middle cast are

called the Vaishyas and consist of the common people, merchants, and artisans. The second to

the last group is called Sudras. These people are usually servants. At the bottom of the caste

system are found the Panchamas, or untouchables. These people are outcasts and make up as

much as 20 percent of the Hindu community.

 

A Hindu's duty involves following his caste's guidelines and honoring the gods. One of the

ways Hindus honor their gods is to observe the ceremonies and festivals associated with their

chosen deity. Some Hindus give alms, take vows, or go on pilgrimages at special times during the

year. One important festival observed by many Hindus is the festival of Diwali, or the Hindu

New Year.

 

Diwali, or sometimes spelled Divali, is celebrated late October or early November.

Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune, is the honored deity of this festival. This is a time to visit friends

and family, clean, and to give gifts and cards. People decorate their homes with flowers and bake

sweet treats. These treats are made into the shapes of flowers, human beings, and animals.

Some people have said that these candies taste similar to maple sugar candy made in the United

States.

 

On this day, many Hindus start the day with a cleansing ritual. After a bath, they then put

on their finest clothing. Most clean house and some even go as far as to white wash their homes

on this day. Flowers are placed as decorations throughout the house. This is because the goddess

Lakshmi loves flowers. Some people build an altar to Lakshmi and decorate it with symbols of

prosperity, cars, homes, and fake money.

 

At night there are usually fireworks displays. Homes are full of light. Traditionally, wicks

burning in mustard oil give off this light. However, candles are also used to light homes.

Saucers, or chirags, filled with mustard oil are placed on window sills and on roofs. These lights

are placed out so that the goddess, Lakshmi, will be better able to find her way to the homes of

those lighting the chirags. Women and girls often set chirags afloat on the Ganges River. If the

light makes it to the other side of the river, this is taken as a sign of good luck. Many Hindu men

gamble on this night. Why not, the goddess of luck is supposed to be out on this night. This is

also the time of year when businessmen visit the local temples to pray for good luck and fortune in

the next year.

 

One of the last things done on Diwali is to drive out Alaksmi, or the goddess of bad luck,

poverty, and misfortune. Traditionally in India, the oldest woman of the house will sweep the

entire house. This is suppose to also sweep out the goddess of bad luck. Some Hindus try to

scare away misfortune by making loud noises and yelling throughout the house.

 

Diwali is a very important festival for many Hindus. However, there appears to be many

ways to celebrate this time of year. Hinduism, as a whole, appears pretty open to how a person

chooses to observe or practice a religious event. So, keep this in mind and have fun. May

Lakshmi find her way into your home.

 

References:

Ahamed, N. (1996). Rainbows: Stories and customs from around the world. Parsippany, NJ: Good

Apple.

Avvar, M. (1996). Hindu Image Gallery. (On-Line). Available:

http://www.geko.net.au/~mohan/images.html

Brown, W. N. (1994). Encyclopedia Americana. Dansbury, CT: Grolier Incorporated.

Carolin, C. (1995). Laksmi Home Page. (On-Line). Available: http:/www.cascade.net/laksmi2.html.

Dolbler, L .(1962). Customs and holidays around the world. New York: Fleet Publishing.

Steele, P. (1996). The world of festivals. New York: Rand McNally.

Warren, J & McKinnon, E. (1988). Small World Celebrations. Everett, WA: Warren.

 

Objectives:

- Students will recognize that countries and religions have celebrations unique to their culture and beliefs.

- Students will recognize that certain values, themes, and symbols may be shared and reinforced through

festivals

- Students will demonstrate their understanding of the themes and symbols that are associated with Diwali.

- Students will participate in a service project centered on spreading good luck and fortune in their

community.

 

Time Allotment: Approximately 2 to 3 class periods plus time for service project.

 

Resources Need:

- world map

- pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses

- pictures of flowers

- Art materials for creating flowers

- Noise making materials

- examples of lights

 

Procedures:

A. Brainstorm. Have students think about how people in other areas of the world might

celebrate their holidays.

B. Mini-lecture. Explain that people all over the world have special times when they celebrate themes

and events that are important to them. Discuss how in India one of the major holidays is Diwali, or the

Hindu New Year. Briefly talk about Hinduism and show the class where India is located on the

classroom wall map. Tell students that Diwali is celebrated in late October or early November. Share

information about this holiday. Check for understanding by asking review questions and using review

material when the need arises. Have students write a paragraph or draw something they felt was important

about Diwali.

C. Think-Pair-Share. Have children look for similarities to common American holidays and

Diwali. Have the students make an individual list of similarities. Then have pairs of students

compare and share their lists with each other. Ask for volunteers to share their observations with

the rest of the class.

D. Concept Development. One of the many ideas that may be new to students is the concept

of polytheism verse monotheism, or the presence of many gods verses the presence of only one

god. Present the main Deities found in the Hinduism. Show pictures of Hindu Gods and

Goddesses. Make sure to show a picture of Lakshmi. Focus on the Goddess Lakshmi and what

she represents, Luck and Fortune. Ask students to discuss what they think it means to be fortunate. The

teacher may ask a question like, "What make a person fortunate?" This would be a good time to establish

that not everyone is as fortunate as those who have much. Ask students to write a short paragraph

explaining what they think it means to be "Lucky" or "Fortunate."

E. Hands-on. The Goddess Lakshmi is very fond of flowers. Show the students pictures of many

different kinds of colorful flowers. Some examples may be: roses, zinnias,

purple dahlias, snapdragons, and tulips. Any flower will do. This would be a great time to

integrate a little science into the Diwali lesson. Discussing the different parts of a flower with the

class, would allow the children to learn more about flowers. Then to make the presence of

Lakshmi more likely to visit the class, have students each create a beautiful flower. You can use

paints, crayons, construction paper. There are many different ways to make a beautiful flower.

When the Flowers are complete decorate the room with them to invite good luck into the

classroom.

F. Physical Education. Review how Hindus try to scare away the goddess of bad luck at the

end of the Diwali celebration. Ask student to think of some ways to scare away "bad luck." This

should be a fun time and the teacher should be prepared to experience a lot of noise. Allow

students to stomp their feet, yell, bang pots and pans, and basically make noise, lots of noise. It

might be fun to have the class march through the school to scare away bad luck and misfortune

for everyone.

G. Service Project. After completing the good luck march, ask the students if they think that

making a lot of noise is a very good way of getting rid of bad luck. During the discussion on the

topics of Luck and Fortune, hopefully the idea of poverty will surface. Point out the face that

there are a lot of people who are not lucky or fortunate. This is prime opportunity to look at

some people who are not fortunate by the class' standards. There are many service opportunities

in every local community. Events such as can food drives, selling T-shirts designed by the class,

or any number of other projects can be used to raise money and food for the needy. Ask the

class what they want to do to help spread good luck and fortune in their community.

H. Integration. Diwali is often referred to as a festival of light. These lights are used to

entice the Goddess Lakshmi to visit those who set out these lights. There are so many different

projects a class could do centered only on light. Again this is an opportunity to integrate the

symbols of this Hindu celebration with the subject of science. The class could discuss anything

from why moths are attracted to light to what exactly is light made up of. Teachers could

explain how light travels, show students how a spectrum reacts to light, and they could also talk

about reflection of light in mirrors. These are just a few ideas about how to integrate science

with the study of this Hindu holiday.

I. Clean-up. Review the major points and concepts associated with Diwali. After reviewing, remind

the students that many Hindus start the day by making their homes ready for Lakshmi. One of the first

things Hindus do is to clean their homes. So, to ensure that good luck and fortune do not pass the class

by, ask the student to clean the classroom.

 

Assessment:

Flower designs will be assessed on having correct parts.

Responses to discussion questions will be assessed.

Writings on Luck and Fortune will be assessed.

Papers from mini-lecture will be assessed.

Lists from holiday comparison will be assessed.

Participation in service project will be assessed.

Appendix:

Dear Parents,

We have been discussing what it means to be fortunate. During our class discussions we

have identified that some people are not as fortunate as others. So, as a class we have decided to

help those in need in our community by having a can food drive during the week of .

Your children may be asking you to donate a few canned food items. What ever assistance you

feel that you can give will not only be appreciated by our class, but by those who will benefit by

receiving what you donate. All food collected by our class will be given to the local food bank.

Thank you for your assistance.

Sincerely,

 

(Put your name here.)


Note from Nathan Smith, TeacherLINK webmaster: The following was received from one of our viewers, and is included below for additional information...

Hello, I would like to report a factual error in the title and content of the subtopic "Mini-unit Subtopic: Diwali-Hindu New Year" for Grade level: 4-6 by the Author: J. Madoc Powell. The article on Diwali seems well-researched and well-written, though I did not examine it to check if all its facts are correct. The main mistake which popped out at me is the description of Diwali (a major Hindu festival) as the time of celebrating the Hindu New Year. This is a common misconception which I find in books and articles written by Americans about Diwali. The actual fact is that Diwali is a major festival for all Hindus but only a little over 5% of the Hindu population in India (the Gujarati community of the north-western state of Gujarat) celebrate their New Year on the day following Diwali (which usually falls in October-November). The majority of the Hindu population celebrates the traditional Hindu new year in either mid-March or mid-April, depending on which traditional Hindu calendar is followed in their part of the country. So it is factually wrong to describe Diwali as the time of the Hindu New Year, as this is the case for only about 5% of the Hindus. Thanks, Pramila Komanduri


 

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