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Gail Skroback Hennessey taught for over 33 years, teaching sixth grade in all but two years. She earned a BA in early secondary education with a concentration in social studies and an MST in social...
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Explore resources to help teach students about Diwali

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In 2015, Diwali (or Deepavali) begins on November 11th and lasts for 5 days. This is a great opportunity to introduce kids to the country of India!

Deepavali means "festival of lights”. It's a happy time of year and is the biggest holiday in the country of India.  Practiced mainly by people of the Hindu faith, many other people enjoy taking part in the festive holiday season, too. During the holiday, people pray, give gifts and light lamps (Dipa lamps). Special sweet treats including Laddus (sweet wheat balls with nuts and fruits inside) and Karanjis (flour fried dumplings with coconut and sugar) are eaten. Families and friends get together and fireworks are set off to help welcome the new year.

Diwali involves spending time with family and performing traditional activities. Families clean their homes from top to bottom so that when the lamps are lit it will be suitable for Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth and knowledge to enter their home and bless them with good fortune for the upcoming year. The God of wisdom, Ganesh, is also honored during this time.

How did Diwali begin? One story tells about the death of Narakasura, an evil demon. He was killed by Lord Krishna. Narakasura had held 16,000 women prisoners and Deepavali celebrates their freedom by Lord Krishna’s actions.

Another legend tells the story of Lord Rama and his wife Sita. Rama’s father forced them from their home in Ayodhya and they went to live in a forest. While in the forest, Sita is kidnapped by a ten headed demon named Ravana, who takes her to the island of Lanka.  Rama asks the  monkey warrior, Hanuman,to help him rescue Sita. Rama also gets help from the people of Ayodhya who light the way back home to Ayodhya. Victorious, Rama and Sita return. Rama is crowned the new king and earthen lamps illuminate the city in his honor.

Whatever the origin, Deepavali (Diwali) is a time to celebrate with family and friends, thinking back on the end of the year and hoping for a prosperous new year!

Learn the traditional greeting: NAMASTE. Clap both hands together and say Namaste!

Fun Facts:
Diwali celebrates the end of the harvest season.

President Barack Obama was the first U.S. president to participate in a Deepavali celebration in the White House, in 2009.

“Shubh Deepavali” means “Have an auspicious Diwali" and is a common greeting for this holiday time.

Diwali marks the Hindu New Year. It is a national holiday in India.

Diwali is a time to celebrate the triumph of good over evil. The Hindu goddess of wealth and good future, Goddess Lakshmi, is honored during this holiday.  The Hindu god of wisdom, God Ganesh, is also honored during Diwali.

Other countries that have Diwali celebrations include: Australia, Guyana, Trinidad, Nepal, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Fiji, Malaysia, Myanmar, Tobago, Sirinam, Mauritius and Sri Lanka. There are also celebrations in the United States. Use a world map and identify these countries.

Mango leaves and colorful marigolds are often strung around the doorways on houses.

Scented sticks called agarbathis are also lit during Diwali.

A popular Indian game played by all ages is the game of Antakshari. It is a music-based fun game that involves singing Indian movie songs. Two or more teams sing in turns starting from the last letter of the previous song sung by the other team. Teams earn point and the team with the most points wins the game.

Firework displays are popular during Diwali. The firecrackers are done to help keep evil spirits away from the home.

Extension Activities:
Make a Rangoli:

Using colored rice flour and water, people decorate patterns on the ground outside their homes and place of worship. It's a way to honor the Hindu Goddess Lakshimi and hope the goddess feels welcome in their homes. Use colored markers and create a colorful Rangoli pattern. See some pictures here.

Make a Dipa Lamp:
Usually made from clay, they are traditionally the size to hold in the palm of the hand. Make sure you make a small depression in the center to hold a votive candle.You can paint your lamp purple, yellow, blue or red and decorate with colorful sequins. Dipa lamps are lit and placed in the water. Legend says if the dipa lamp makes it across the water to the other side, a wish will be granted by the Hindu Goddess Lakshimi.

Have small groups of students review the country of India using resources of your choice.  Draw/color a picture of something that has to do with India (the Taj Mahal, tigers, etc.) Write 5 facts learned about the country to share with the rest of the class. A resource to learn about India.

Read a folk story from India to the students such as “The Elephant and the Blind Men”. Have students write a summary of the story. Found here.

Another helpful link.

Learn about India with these resources:

1. India in Focus is a webquest, with additional fun facts and extension activities. Did you know that it was ancient India that gave the world the idea of the zero? The game Chutes and Ladders comes from an Indian board game. More people speak English in India than in the United States? Skills include: reading for information and using research/computer skills.  

2. Taj Mahal: Explore World Landmarks are great to introduce kids to some popular world landmarks around the world. With writing in the content area, the short activities can also be used in Language Arts classes, too! About one page of reading, discussion questions and extension activities. Grades 4 and up. 

3. Gifts from India to the World. Chess, yoga, the game Parcheesi and the place value zero are just some of the gifts we have from India. Want to introduce your students to the country of India? This resources will be most helpful. Teach: Basic notes, map skill activity, lots of extension activities and other links to get your students engaged in learning about the country of India. Explore this link.


Activity for Students:

Read the following paragraph

Lots and lots of firecrackers and fireworks light up the night during the holiday,Diwali. Clay lamps called Diyas sit atop windowsills, along driveways, and in gardens lighting the night sky welcoming the goddess Lakshimi to the home.Hindus believe Lakshimi, goddess of good luck, visits homes that are brightly lit.Beautiful flowers are strung around the doorways including marigolds and mango leaves. It’s a time to clean the home, purchase new clothes, wrap up pistachios, cashews, raisins and dried fruit to give as gifts. Deepavali is a time to celebrate the success of good over evil and a time to ring in the new year.Families have sweets such as laddoo (balls of chickpea flour), payesh (thickened milk sweetened with sugar and rice), barfi (thickened, boiled-down milk) and jalebis (twirls of fried sugar) for people who will be stopping by during Deepavali. Temple bells will ring, and streets will be decorated with colorful paper lanterns and lights and golden streamers. Happy Deepavali!


Comprehension Questions:

1. What are three things people do to celebrate Deepavali?

2. To whose homes does the Goddess Lakshmi visit?

3.What do people hang in the doorways during Diwali?

4. Where do people place the clay lamps called Diyas?

5. What are two facts you may know about the country of India?


Answers to Comprehension Questions:

1.clean house, have foods for visitors, temple feels wrong, lanterns hung, fireworks

2. homes brightly lit

3. mango and marigold

4. driveways, gardens, windowsills

5. Answers will vary