Editor's note: In a Nov. 14 article about preschoolers learning about Diwali, the wrong date was given for the Indian New Year, and an incorrect name was given for the leader who attained nirvana. Nov. 14 begins the new year, and Lord Mahavira was the one who attained nirvana.
Preschoolers at Friendship Station in Geneva learned about the Indian festival of Diwali with the help of a classmate's mother Tuesday afternoon.
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Liza Jain read the children a book about the five-day festival, which began Sunday, amd told the students about the special clothes she and daughter Anishka, 3, were wearing. She also helped her daughter perform two Bollywood-style modern Indian dances.
"I think it is just nice to bring the multicultural awareness in the Geneva community. I think it is maybe lacking a little bit," said Jain. She also spoke about Diwali last week to her other daughter's first-grade schoolmates at Heartland Elementary School.
Diwali is celebrated annually in the fall by followers of the Jain, Sikh and Hindu religions.
"Diwali" is Hindi for "row of lights." At Heartland, students made small clay lanterns, called diyas. "It reminds people that light wins over darkness," Jain said. It is associated with worship of the goddess Lakshmi, who brings wealth and prosperity, and Ganesh, the god of good beginnings. One legend has it lamps were lit when a prince defeated an evil man who had taken away his wife; the lamps guided her home, Jain said.
Nov. 14 begins a new year, she said, and it is especially important to Jain followers such as herself, because it is the day their patron religious figure, Lord Mahavira, attained nirvana. Traditionally, it is a fun day for siblings, she said; brothers give gifts to sisters, and sisters give special food to their brothers.
Besides lanterns, celebrants often illuminate temples, use sparklers, and enjoy fireworks during Diwali, Jain said. "We have lots of candles lit up at our home," she told the preschoolers.
During the festival, "we wear our fanciest clothes," Jain said. Their outfits were brightly colored, and glittered with decorations. Anishka wore more than a dozen bangles on one wrist, which jangled when she danced.
Jain said she tries to make sure her girls are aware of their heritage; they take Bollywood dance classes in Naperville, and are learning Hindi. Presentations to the girls' classes are important to her, too.
"I want my kids and others in the area to be proud of who they are," she said.