The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

US Congress Seeks Recognition for Festival of Lights

By: for Asian Tribune on Oct. 1, 2007
World News
Photo Credits: Toby M.

Washington, D.C. 24 August (Asiantribune.com): With two million Hindus in the United States out of which 1,250,000 from India and South Asia residing in this predominantly Christian nation, despite no religion is recognized as a national religion, this largely Asian religion is recognized here as one of the major religions with the United States Congress adopting resolutions requesting the President to declare the Holy Hindu Festival ‘Deepavali’, or festival of lights, to give due and national recognition.

The Senate and the House adopted resolutions recognizing the religious and historical significance of the ‘festival’ requesting the President of the United States to issue a proclamation recognizing ‘Deepavali’ which is also known as ‘Deewali’.

But something significant happened in the United States on 12 July 2007:

History was created in the United States Senate on this day, when Rajan Zed, the Hindu chaplain of the Indian Association of Northern Nevada, opened the Senate with a Hindu prayer.

This is the first such instance since the inauguration of the most influential senate in 1789.

Despite some heckling by a few in the senate gallery, the Hindu priest opening the blessing preached "Let us pray. We meditate on the transcendental glory of the deity supreme, who is inside the heart of the earth, inside the life of the sky and inside the soul of heaven. May he stimulate and illuminate our minds.

"Lead us from the unreal to real, from darkness to light, and from death to immortality. May we be protected together. May we be nourished together. May we work together with great vigor. May our study be enlightening. May no obstacle arise between us."
He also bemoaned the protests, saying, "I believe dialogue is always better," and profusely thanked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, who had arranged for him to deliver the first Hindu prayer in the US Senate.

"The Senator was a very courageous man for standing up and giving us this opportunity. He was very courageous and I appreciate what he did very much," he said.

The Senate Majority Leader Reid said "It shows what America is all about. Having real big arms to put around everyone and this is a religion that has been around a long time, which has brought peace and contentment to people over the generations and we are happy to have a (Hindu) prayer."

Zed said the fact that a Hindu prayer was opening the US Senate for the first time, was a clear indication that there is an acceptance of Hinduism as part of America today. "Slowly we are becoming mainstream. Yoga is very popular already, and through yoga in America, Hinduism is becoming more known. I teach Hinduism classes also in the community colleges (in Reno, Nevada) and I get a very favorable reception."

With this significant development, the Hindu American Foundation in the United States in a recent press release commending both houses of the Congress in adopting resolutions which recognized the religious and historic significance of the festival of Diwali and requesting the President of the United States to issue a proclamation recognizing this most important worldwide festival of the Hindus said: "recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali.”. The resolution affirms the importance of the festival in the lives of millions of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs in the United States.

The resolution also lauds the Hindu American Foundation for promoting the recognition of this festival nationally.”

Following is the full text of the press release issues by the Hindu American Foundation of the United States which is a non-profit, non-partisan organization promoting the Hindu and American ideals of understanding, tolerance and pluralism.

“On August 3, 2007, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-New Jersey) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) introduced a resolution "recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali.”. The resolution affirms the importance of the festival in the lives of millions of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs in the United States. The resolution also lauds the Hindu American Foundation for promoting the recognition of this festival nationally. This is now a bicameral effort, following the introduction of House resolution cosponsored by Rep. Joe Wilson (R- SC) and Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) earlier this year.

Senator Menendez said, "With over 180,000 Indian Americans living in New Jersey today, I am proud to have introduced a resolution to recognize the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali. It is important that we celebrate the great diversity that makes up and strengthens our national fabric, and it gives me great pride to commemorate what Diwali stands for -- a time to be with family, and to pray for health, knowledge, and peace."

"At Hindu American Foundation (HAF), we have made the public recognition of Diwali a major focus of our work this year," said Ishani Chowdhury, Executive Director of HAF. "We commend the efforts of Senator Menendez and others in making our traditions a celebrated part of the fabric of mainstream American life. This bicameral Senate and House initiative further moves the dream of HAF and the Indian American community closer to fruition."

”Perhaps the most widely recognized Hindu festival, Diwali/Deepavali will be celebrated globally this year on November 9. Diwali, or Deepvali, is known as the "Festival of Lights," referring to the rows of earthen lamps celebrants place around their homes. The light symbolizes the victory of knowledge over ignorance, and goodness over evil. It further represents an awareness of God in our lives.

”In addition to its symbolic significance, many Hindus believe that Diwali marks the day that Lord Rama returned from a forced exile after defeating the ultimate force of evil in His time. The festival is celebrated over five days throughout India, marking the end of the Hindu calendar year. In addition to Hindus, Sikhs celebrate Diwali in commemoration of the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. Jains recognize Diwali as the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Tirthankaras, attained Nirvana, or liberation, after his death in 527 BCE.”

The following is the full text of the Resolution adopted by the United States Senate on 03 August 2007, and in March this year, House passed a resolution on the same lines:

“Recognizing the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali.

Whereas Diwali, a festival of great significance to Indian Americans and South Asian Americans, is celebrated annually by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains throughout the United States;

Whereas there are nearly 2,000,000 Hindus in the United States, approximately 1,250,000 of which are of Indian and South Asian origin;

Whereas the word `Diwali' is a shortened version of the Sanskrit term `Deepavali', which means `a row of lamps';

Whereas Diwali is a festival of lights, during which celebrants light small oil lamps, place them around the home, and pray for health, knowledge, and peace;

Whereas celebrants of Diwali believe that the rows of lamps symbolize the light within the individual that rids the soul of the darkness of ignorance;

Whereas Diwali falls on the last day of the last month in the lunar calendar and is celebrated as a day of thanksgiving and the beginning of the New Year for many Hindus;

Whereas for Hindus, Diwali is a celebration of the victory of good over evil;

Whereas for Sikhs, Diwali is feted as the day that the sixth founding Sikh Guru, or revered teacher, Guru Hargobind, was released from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir; and

Whereas for Jains, Diwali marks the anniversary of the attainment of moksha, or liberation, by Mahavira, the last of the Tirthankaras (the great teachers of Jain dharma), at the end of his life in 527 B.C.: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate--

(1) recognizes the religious and historical significance of the festival of Diwali; and

(2) requests the President to issue a proclamation recognizing Diwali.”

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