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New York City's public schools to observe Diwali as holiday

NEW YORK CITY, Oct 22: New York City's public schools will observe the Indian festival Diwali as a holiday starting next year, Mayor Eric Adams announced at a news conference Thursday.

"The inclusiveness of this city is extremely significant, and this is our opportunity to say that in a loud way," Adams remarked.

Adams said the festival of lights typically celebrated by the Hindus, Jains and the Sikhs will be commemorated starting the next academic year.

“It is long overdue to say to our Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities that we see you, we acknowledge you,” Adams said at the conference.

Adams said, “As we deal with so much darkness that is around us, we fail to realise the overwhelming amount of light that is around us. And when we take this period to acknowledge Diwali, we are acknowledging the light that is within us, the light that clearly can push away darkness and that is why this is so significant.”

He said the city has identified public holidays like Eid and Lunar New Years.

State Assembly member Jenifer Rajkumar, who introduced the legislation, said “For over two decades, South Asians and Indo-Caribbeans in New York have been fighting for the Diwali school holiday.”

"The time has come to recognize over 200,000 New Yorkers of the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh and Jain faiths, who celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights," she said.

The Bill replaces the Anniversary Day holiday to avoid an additional holiday and keep the minimum requirement of 180 days of instruction under the New York State law.

The schools in the City of New York will remain closed on Diwali from next year. This year it falls on October 24. Diwali date changes by year as it follows the Hindu calendar.

What is Diwali?

The day is associated with the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune, Lakshmi, and therefore pujas (prayers) are held on the day in her honour.

It celebrates victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.

According to Hindu mythology, the day also marks Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, besides the killing of Ravana, the demon king.

On Diwali there is large-scale shopping, gifts and sweets. The celebration is marked by pomp.

Diwali or Deepavali starts with Dhanteras, also known as Dhanatrayodashi. Dhanteras is the first day of the Hindu festival of Diwali. It is celebrated on the 13th lunar day of Krishna Paksha in the Hindu calendar month of Ashwin. Ganesh Chaturthi, Navratri, Durga puja, Dasra and Diwali are all celebrated in the seventh month of Ashwin. Dhanteras falls on October 22 this year and the muhurta (auspicious time) is from 07:00 pm to 08:17 pm . It is considered auspicious to buy gold and silver jewellery on the day. It is believed Goddess Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) visits and blesses the houses where Dhanteras is observed.

Diwali is on five consecutive days:- 1. Dhanteras; 2. Naraka Chaturdasi or Chhota Diwali (it is believed that Lord Krishna fought the demon Narakasura and killed him); 3. Lakshmi Puja (Diwali main) begins at 06:53 pm and ends at 08:15 pm on October 24. It is also the day celebrated as Lord Ram's return to Ayodhya after killing Ravana; 4. Govardhan Puja (Lord Krishna saved the residents of Mathura from Lord Indra by lifting a mountain named Govardhan); and, 5. Bhai Dooj (celebrates the special bond of brothers and sisters).

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