BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Friday afternoon there was a small outdoor gathering at Peppertown Park to celebrate Diwali, an Indian festival that celebrates the victory of good vs. evil and coincides with the Hindu New Year. Festivities usually last for five days, and include gathering with family members, tasty food, and fireworks.
Over the past few years, thanks to the Berkeley Heights Diversity Commission, the community has embraced the many cultures represented by township residents and those in neighboring towns. Last year, in partnership with the Berkeley Heights YMCA, the Diversity Commission presented the fifth annual Diwali celebration, where children and adults enjoyed an afternoon of ceremonial music and dance, henna applications, arts and crafts, games and the opportunity to learn the story of Diwali and its many ceremonial rituals and customs.
Although the Diwali celebration feels much different in 2020 due to COVID-19, the community members that came together on Friday spread light and happiness while wishing each other "Happy Diwali."
Mayor Angie Devanney and council members greeted families. Many photos were snapped by the decorations and colorful lights that brightened the tree lined path in Peppertown Park. The children dressed in vibrant colors and enjoyed swirling around with sparklers and being together to celebrate the festival of lights.
Diwali ( “row of lights” in Sanskrit) is known as the “Festival of Lights” and typically falls between October and November, as per the Hindu lunar calendar.
This ancient and most important festival is widely observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains. The holiday is commemorated with the lighting of diyas (clay lamps), and with firecrackers to symbolize the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and spiritual light over darkness.
According to the Indian epic The Ramayana, Prince Rama of Ayodhya, the embodiment of dharma (right living) and an incarnation of Vishnu was exiled to the forest for 14 years by his jealous step-mother who wanted to install her own son on the throne.
While in exile in the forest, Rama’s wife Sita (an incarnation of Lakshmi) was kidnapped by the powerful demon king Ravana. Aided by the great warrior Hanuman, Rama and his brother Lakshmana freed Sita by vanquishing Ravana in Sri Lanka. After the 14-year exile, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman returned to Ayodhya, where joyous citizens lit their path home with clay lamps.
Diwali celebrations span several days. The main day this year is November 14th. People worship Lord Vishnu (the sustainer of the universe) his wife, Lakshmi (goddess of wealth and prosperity) and Ganesha (the remover of obstacles).
Like all religious festivities the world over, families celebrate life and Diwali by feasting together, wearing new clothes, watching fireworks and exchanging gifts of sweets with family and friends.