Lo­cal Hindu com­mu­nity cel­e­brates Di­wali with lights, mer­ri­ment.

Cen­tral Arkansas’ Hindu com­mu­nity cel­e­brates Di­wali with lights and mer­ri­ment

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - ARKANSAS - FRAN­CISCA JONES

This week, Hin­dus world­wide cel­e­brated Di­wali, known as the faith’s fes­ti­val of lights, with fire­crack­ers, gifts and sweets in the hol­i­day that above all cel­e­brates the tri­umph of good over evil.

A small gath­er­ing of friends and fam­ily from the Hindu com­mu­nity marked this year’s Di­wali to­gether Tues­day at a home in Lit­tle Rock with the bright colors of tra­di­tional In­dian dress, plates of home­made sweets and talk of car­ry­ing on tra­di­tion.

“We have a lot of fes­ti­vals, but Di­wali is the big­gest deal of all,” said Viji Srid­ha­ran of Lit­tle Rock. “It’s like Christ­mas.”

Di­wali com­mem­o­rates the wel­com­ing back of Lord Rama, an in­car­na­tion of Kr­ishna, af­ter his 14-year bat­tle and even­tual vic­tory over Ra­vana, who is said to have kid­napped Rama’s wife, Sita.

Mem­bers of the faith also be­lieve that Lak­shmi, the god­dess of wealth and pros­per­ity, will visit homes that are well-lit dur­ing Di­wali.

Ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s global re­li­gious land­scape study re­leased last year, Hin­duism is the world’s third-largest re­li­gion. Fif­teen per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion iden­ti­fies as be­long­ing to the re­li­gion, and 95 per­cent of its devo­tees live in In­dia. Hin­dus make up less than 1 per­cent of the U.S. pop­u­la­tion, ac­cord­ing to the cen­ter’s 2014 U.S. re­li­gious land­scape study.

Srid­ha­ran, a ra­di­a­tion re­search sci­en­tist, said while there were as few as 50 Hindu fam­i­lies in Lit­tle Rock in the 1980s, there are now more than 1,000.

Jains and Sikhs — re­li­gions which de­vel­oped from Hin­duism — also cel­e­brate Di­wali, but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Mem­bers of the Jain re­li­gion be­lieve that Di­wali is the time dur­ing which the spir­i­tual teacher Lord Ma­havira at­tained nir­vana. For Sikhs, Di­wali marks the re­lease of Guru Har­gob­ind, the sixth guru of the faith, along with 52 other Hindu roy­alty mem­bers, in 1619.

Com­mit­tee mem­bers of the re­li­gious non­profit, the Hindu Tem­ple of Cen­tral Arkansas — a group of peo­ple that in­cludes Sruthi Ka­nuru of Lit­tle Rock and Srid­ha­ran, one of its found­ing mem­bers — have been work­ing for the past few years to­ward the con­struc­tion of its own tem­ple and cul­tural cen­ter, which would be Lit­tle Rock’s first Hindu house of wor­ship. Con­struc­tion be­gan in Oc­to­ber on Vi­jayadashami, the end of the faith’s an­nual Na­va­tri cel­e­bra­tion, and is ex­pected to be com­pleted by fall 2019.

“We are pro­vid­ing [our chil­dren] with a plat­form to cel­e­brate,” Srid­ha­ran said. “The tem­ple is a chance to teach them our tra-

di­tions and faith be­cause we don’t want them to be stranded or blind­folded to how we live our faith.”

“We want all our kids to know our tra­di­tions, and to carry them on to the next gen­er­a­tion,” said Bindu Sid­dam­reddy, a neu­rol­o­gist. “Be­ing here [in the U.S.], we don’t want to lose our cul­ture.”

While there is no limit in In­dia to the fire­crack­ers that split the air with noise and smoke — with the ex­cep­tion of a tem­po­rary ban on their sale in parts of the coun­try last year — the com­mu­nity’s Di­wali cel­e­bra­tions in the Lit­tle Rock area are ad­justed to ad­here to noise and safety re­stric­tions.

Mem­bers light and si­t­u­ate dis­plays of can­dles mixed in with clay lamps from In­dia, known as diyas. And although there is cur­rently no burn ban in Pu­laski County, fes­ti­vals and other cel­e­bra­tions limit the py­rotech­nics to sparklers — which the chil­dren love, Bindu said — that punc­tu­ate the night air and lend fes­tiv­ity to the oc­ca­sion.

The non­profit also held a puja, or Hindu wor­ship ser­vice of rit­u­als, pray­ers and songs, at Grace Pres­by­te­rian Church in Lit­tle Rock on Wed­nes­day, but other pu­jas have been held at the site of the tem­ple’s ground­break­ing, at the site where a fig­ure of Lord Balaji, the avatar of the Hindu god Vishnu, will be lo­cated. Ten to 12 other Hindu gods also will be rep­re­sented at the tem­ple.

“Once we get the tem­ple, ev­ery­one can go there and cel­e­brate,” Ka­nuru said. “To­geth­er­ness is the main thing — cel­e­brat­ing in cul­tural har­mony to­gether. The fes­ti­val is cel­e­brated with pomp and show mainly for that rea­son.”

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/FRAN­CISCA JONES

Karthik Tho­takura holds out one of the sparklers light­ing the night at a Di­wali gath­er­ing in Lit­tle Rock on Tues­day.

AP/RA­JESH KU­MAR SINGH

Devo­tees light earthen lamps on the banks of the River Sarayu as part of Di­wali cel­e­bra­tions in Ay­o­d­hya, In­dia, on Tues­day.

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/FRAN­CISCA JONES

Fig­ures of Lord Rama (left) and his wife, Sita, over­look a Di­wali gath­er­ing Tues­day in Lit­tle Rock. The cou­ple is fea­tured in the Hindu epic poem Ra­mayana, and Rama’s re­turn from res­cu­ing Sita from ab­duc­tion by the de­mon king Ra­vana is cen­tral to the hol­i­day cel­e­brated by Hin­dus world­wide.

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