Introduction to Diwali

Diwali, or Deepavali, is a Hindu festival that is celebrated every year on the 15th day of the month of Kartik in the Hindu calendar (in October or November on the Western calendar). During Diwali, sometimes called the “Festival of Lights,” clay lamps or diyas are lit to signify the destruction, through knowledge, of all negative qualities — be it violence, anger, jealousy, greed, fear or suffering. In other words, Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil.

The story of Diwali is known by every Hindu child as it is celebrated in almost every home. There are several legends about the origin of Diwali. One goes back to the Hindu Epic of the Ramayana.

Over a thousand years ago, there was a kind, humble, and much beloved Prince named Rama who was soon to be named King. Instead, his jealous stepmother found a way to have Rama banished to the forest for 14 years. His wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, went with him because they did not want to leave his side. One day, a demon king named Ravana saw Sita and fell in love with her beauty. He hatched a plan and eventually kidnapped her. Rama went in pursuit of Ravana and fought a great war to win his beloved Sita back. After their reunion and completing their 14 year exile, Rama, Sita, and Lakshman returned home to Ayodhya where the people rejoiced and lit lamps all over the kingdom to welcome them back. Shortly after, Rama was crowned King of Ayodhya.

Another story for Diwali is about the victory of Krishna over the demon Narakasura. Thousands of years ago, there lived a young lad named Narkasura. He was the son of Mother Earth. Narakasura could have been a very fair ruler, but over time he befriended a demon and soon Narakasura also became evil. Narkasura was horrible and wreaked havoc on all of those around him. He started taking over neighboring kingdoms and soon set his sights on a heavenly kingdom called Svargaloka. He seemed unstoppable. As the demon felt more and more empowered, his evil doings grew greater. One day he decided to kidnap all the beautiful young damsels of the kingdom. The inhabitants of Svargaloka could take it no longer. They called upon Lord Krishna to save them from Narkasura’s terror. Lord Krishna came as soon as he heard and fought the demon in a fierce battle. Lord Krishna defeated Narakasura and stopped the evil demon, restoring peace and prosperity to the people.​

Sikhs also recognize Diwali to celebrate the release of the Sixth Guru, Hargobind, one of their spiritual leaders, from captivity by the Mughal Emperor Jehangir. In his honor, lamps were lit all the way to the Golden Temple, welcoming his return. For Jains, Diwali is the day Lord Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras (Ford-maker or Savior), achieved enlightenment or nirvana/moksha. Lastly, Buddhists, especially Newar Buddhists, commemorate Diwali as Ashok Vijayadashami, the day the great Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism as his faith.

As per Hindu tradition, Diwali is celebrated with grand splendor, many to welcome the new year. It is on Diwali that…

…sweet and savory snacks are prepared throughout the day.
…every home is lit with diyas, leaving no room for darkness to enter.
…every doorstep is decorated with rangoli to welcome guests with great honor.
…one fashions new clothing to thank Goddess Lakshmi for providing prosperity and good fortune.
…when the sun sets, firecrackers light up the streets.

It is on Diwali that every face is adorned with a smile.

Teaching About Diwali in the Classroom

From diyas to rangoli to yummy snacks, you can help bring Diwali to your child’s classroom.

Creating a festive atmosphere…

  • Ask the classroom teacher if you can bring decorations for the room.  If s/he agrees, bring in strings of light and help hang them around the room.  Make a rangoli on posterboard with a sign that says “Happy Diwali from Ms./Mr. ____’s Class” and hang it outside the room for the rest of the school to see.
  • Introduce yourself and say good bye with “Namaste.”  Explain that “Namaste” is a traditional Hindu greeting that translates to “The Divine in me, bows to the Divine in you.” It is based on the belief that each one of us is a part of God or the Divine.
  • Play your favorite Indian music lightly in the background during the Diwali presentation, while doing arts and crafts with the kids and/or while snacking on food.
  • Don’t forget to take a class picture before you leave! Take a group picture for the school yearbook and/or print out copies and distribute as a fun memorabilia for each child.

Creative activities for elementary and middle schoolers…

Elementary School

  • Elementary students love read alouds!  Tell them the story of Diwali by reading aloud from a book, or use the HAF powerpoint for a dramatic reading. HAF-recommended books for children
  • Color in diyas and rangoli designs. Materials needed: HAF-provided Diwali coloring pages, markers/crayons/colored pencils.
  • Make candle-diyas. Materials needed: HAF-provided diya cutout, tea light candles, felt sheets, scissors, glue, glitter. Optional: Additional decorative items (i.e. beads, sequins, etc.)
  • Mold diyas. Materials needed: Crayola Air-Dry clay, tea light candles. Additional decorative items: glitter, beads, sequins.
  • Go outside and draw rangoli designs on the ground. Materials needed: colored chalk.

Middle School

  • Middle schoolers love being involved! In small groups, create 3-5 minute skits depicting scenes from the Ramayana.  We’ve even created a sample Ramayana skit for your use!  For example, one group can act out Scene 1 (Exile from Ayodhya), another group can act out Scene 2 (The Forest), and a final group can act out Scene 3 (Getting Sita Back). Provide the groups with paper, scissors, and tape so they can create props for their skits.  Bring in props like dupattas, beads, and crowns to amp up the fun!  Materials needed: HAF-provided Ramayana skit. Optional materials: Colored paper, scissors, tape, markers/crayons/colored pencils, beads, crowns.
  • So you think you can dance? Demonstrate and teach kids Indian classical or folk dance steps (i.e. bharat natyam, kathak, garba, dandiya, bhangra, etc.). Then break them into groups, give them 10-15 minutes to come up with a group dance, and have a dance-off to compete for a fun prize. Materials needed: Music, prize.
  • Make diyas from scratch.  Ask each student to mix together 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup glue, and 1/4 cup cornstarch in a bowl until it becomes clay-like.  Shape the clay into diya and decorate it with paint, glitter, and intricate designs. Materials needed: All-purpose flour, glue, cornstarch, small mixing bowls, paint, glitter.
  • Create Rangoli paper plates.  Show the students several examples of rangoli designs, and then let them create their own designs on paper plates.  1) Lay newspaper down on each table. 2) Pass out plates, glue, and glitter. 3) Ask the students to write their names on the back of the plates. 4) Encourage students to draw out their design in small parts.  For example, first lay down the glue lines for blue glitter, shake on the blue glitter, shake off excess, repeat with different colors. Materials Needed: paper plates, glue bottles, newspapers, several colors of loose glitter, markers.

Note: Be mindful of school fire safety rules. Instruct children that they may light their diyas at home with parental supervision.

With the start of a new year, Diwali also reminds one to give back to the community…

  • If possible, donate or display these arts and crafts at a local charity (i.e. library, hospital, nursing homes, etc.)
  • Have kids make Diwali greeting cards to be sent to an children’s hospital or senior center. Materials needed: HAF-provided coloring cards, crayons, markers
  • Help your child hold a classroom penny drive starting on the first day of Diwali and donate proceeds to the school’s Parent Teacher Association or Organization (PTA/PTO).
  • Hold a food drive and donate goods to a local food bank.

Fashion tradition…

Dress in Indian clothes and encourage the classroom teacher to do the same. Lend him/her a dupatta and/or jewelry.

Take traditional Indian clothing for a demo. Pick two kids, a boy and a girl, and ask them to come to the front of the class. Drape the girl in a sari and the boy, in a kurta and dhoti to model the clothes of India.

Bring bindis or bangles for all the girls and tilaks for the boys.

Diwali isn’t Diwali without food…

The Sweet…

  • Bake diya-shaped sugar cookies or regular sugar cookies and use icing to decorate them with Diwali-themed designs.
  • Bring in burfi or gulab jamuns from a local Indian shop.
  • Fun activity: Make doodh peda with the kids.  It’s easy and fun with these simple instructions on

The Savory…

  • Bring in mini-samosas from a local Indian shop.
  • Bring in khasta puri from a local Indian shop.
  • Fun activity: Bring in dough and demonstrate how puris are rolled. Have the kids roll their own.

Note: When preparing food items, consult with the classroom teacher regarding food allergies, namely nut and dairy.