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Fox Valley celebrates Indian festival of Diwali

LizJareads story Diwali festival lights students Friendship Statipreschool GenevTuesday November 13 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

Liza Jain reads a story of Diwali, the festival of lights, to students at Friendship Station preschool in Geneva on Tuesday, November 13, 2012. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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At a Glance

ISKCON Temple will celebrate Diwali by observing another legend associated with the festival, Govardhan Puja, which celebrates Krishna sheltering a farm village that worshipped him from the rage of their former god, who sent flooding rains to destroy them. He lifted the entire hill that the village stood on so that the villagers could take shelter beneath it. The event starts at 10 a.m. Sunday with the presentation of offerings to Krishna, usually food sculpted into a hill, followed by a lecture at 11 a.m. and an arati, a ceremony in which worshippers light lamps and offer them with songs to a particular god. The temple is at 1505 McDowell Road in Naperville. Visit to learn more.

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Updated: November 16, 2012 2:16PM

Fox Valley residents who saw fireworks lighting the sky last week can rest assured they didn’t slip back in time to July. Instead, they got just a taste of the Indian festival of Diwali, a combined religious observance and New Year’s celebration shared by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains worldwide — and increasingly in the western suburbs.

Two Hindu temples, ISKCON Temple in Naperville and Sri Venkateswari Swami Temple in Aurora, are hosting Diwali events this weekend, while the Aurora Public Library sponsored an event Nov. 10 at its Eola Road branch.

Area schools also welcomed local Indian-Americans who presented their holiday traditions to students.

On Tuesday, Geneva 3-year-old Anishka Jain helped her mother, Liza Jain, give a Diwali presentation to her class at Friendship Station Preschool in Geneva. She modeled her new Diwali outfit — a sparkling red and yellow brocaded choli (short top) and ghagra (long skirt) with jeweled sandals and bangle bracelets — and demonstrated a few traditional Indian dance steps.

Her mother, resplendent in a similar outfit in shades of blue and silver, read a book to the class about the origins of Diwali. The festival celebrates Prince Rama’s defeat of the evil demon King Ravana after Ravana had kidnapped Rama’s wife, Sita. Worshippers light clay lamps called diyas to help Rama and Sita find their way home and to symbolize the triumph of light over darkness.

“We celebrate for five days because it was such a great victory,” Liza Jain said. “It’s something like Thanksgiving or Christmas: everyone decorates their homes, eats a lot of special treats and holds parties.”

Each day of Diwali has its own theme: preparation and devotions to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune, on the first day; lighting diyas and setting off fireworks on the second day; devotions to Lakshmi and to Lord Ganesh, the god of wisdom, on the third day; and celebrating the new year on the fourth day. The festival closes on the fifth day with a celebration of siblings, during which boys give small gifts to their sisters and girls cook holiday treats for their brothers.

Indians mainly decorate their homes with brightly painted diyas and with rangolis, mosaic designs created on floors and tables using powdered rice, lentils, flour, chalk and flower petals. Friendship Station students made their own rangolis with paint and glitter to take home. Traditionally, rangolis are made to welcome Lakshmi into people’s homes for the next year.

“I like all the colors (in the rangoli he painted), and I like that the king got his wife back,” said 3-year-old Isaac as he painstakingly dotted his rangoli with glitter.

Experienced rangoli makers showed off their work in a contest Nov. 10 at the Eola Branch Library, while children decorated paper diyas to illuminate at home with LED tealights. A talent show that included area residents performing Indian dances, chants and music rounded out the event.

“We’ve held this at least five years, and we usually get between 150 and 200 people,” children’s librarian Carolyn Hewitt said. “Most of the participants come from the Aurora and Naperville areas, but we do get some people who come from all over the Chicago area. For parents whose children were born here, it’s another way to show them part of their cultural heritage.”

Helping her children combine their American lifestyles with their Indian heritage prompted Liza Jain to start making Diwali presentations when her 6-year-old elder daughter, Aashika, started preschool. Jain gave a more advanced presentation this year to Aashika’s first-grade class at Heartland Elementary School in Geneva.

“While there are many Indians and Indian-Americans in the Chicago area, there are only a handful in the Tri-Cities,” she explained. “I want my children and other Indian children here to be proud of who they are. Geneva residents have been really appreciative about learning about Diwali and about accepting Indian culture.”

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