Diwali, the festival of lights, is one of the most anticipated holidays in India. While often associated with Hinduism, Diwali is also celebrated by Jains and Sikhs with their own customs and significance.
Marking the victory of light over darkness, Diwali carries deep spiritual meaning for multiple faiths while also being a time for families and communities to come together. For those involved in South Asian classical and folk dance, Diwali is an exciting time to honor various traditions and infuse performances with the holiday's magical spirit. We will explore Diwali through the lens of the lesser heard stories of Jainism, and Sikhism, and how the festival is celebrated through dance.
Diwali Traditions in Jainism and Sikhism:
For Hindus, Diwali originates from the epic Ramayana and the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after rescuing his wife Sita. Citizens lit earthen lamps to welcome them, starting the tradition of lighting diyas. Diwali represents the triumph of light over darkness and good over evil.
For Sikhs, Diwali is known as Bandi Chorh Diwas, it celebrates the release of the Sixth Guru Hargobind Sahib and 52 others from prison in 1619.
Historic accounts note that emperor Jahangir released Guru Hargobind Sahib whom he had imprisoned for years. The Guru however declared that he would not leave unless the 52 other princes imprisoned with him would be released too. The emperor said that only those who could hold on to the Guru's cloak would be allowed to leave prison.
Guru Hargobind Sahib had a cloak made with 52 pieces of strings so that each prince was able to walk out of prison along with the Guru.
Sikhs celebrated his freedom by lighting the Golden Temple. Today, Sikhs hold processions and light lamps to mark the Guru's teachings.
Diwali is also an important festival of the Jains, it marks the nirvana or spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankara. Jain scriptures refer to Diwali as Dipalikaya which means light leaving the body. To mark the significance of Lord Mahavira’s enlightenment, the earth and heavens were illuminated with lamps.
Across faiths, Diwali signifies prosperity, new beginnings, and the importance of knowledge. Families unite and exchange sweets and gifts. Prayers, reflections, and ceremonies honor blessings.
Dance Traditions for Diwali:
Classical dances like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, and Odissi depict tales from Hindu scriptures related to Diwali through costumes and repertoire. Folk dances showcase regional styles and clothes.
Bharatanatyam dancers perform Lord Rama's return through rhythmic footwork and gestures. Kathak dancers include diyas in choreography. Odissi dancers portray the goddess Lakshmi with grace. Garba and dandiya feature colorful chaniya cholis.
Jain dancers may depict the liberation of Mahavira through fluid movements. Sikh bhangra dancers perform with energy to drums and singing. Dance helps convey Diwali's significance and community spirit.
Tips for Celebrating Diwali Through Dance
To celebrate Diwali through dance:
Research meaning behind classical and folk dances related to Diwali tales and traditions.
Incorporate diyas, candles, and decor in performances. Use symbolic colors.
Wear traditional costumes representing different regional styles. Accessorize with jewelry.
Honor varied faith traditions while making them your own. Enjoy yourself!
For Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and others, Diwali's candles guide us through dance to reflect, unite, and find inner light. By honoring varied rituals and stories, we can gain deeper appreciation for the festival's diverse essence. Let your performance shine with the universal spirit of hope, wisdom, and community.
Looking for performers for you upcoming Diwali event at school or at work?