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CHIVUKULA UNVEILS DIWALI MEASURE FOR SCHOOL DISTRICTS WITH HIGH INDIAN-AMERICAN POPULATIONS TO DECLARE 1st DAY OF FESTIVAL A HOLIDAY
(TRENTON) In the season of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights celebrated by an estimated one billion people worldwide, Assembly Deputy Speaker Upendra J. Chivukula today unveiled a measure he will sponsor to urge New Jersey school districts with high Indian-American populations to declare the first day of the five-day festival a holiday.
Derived from the Sanskrit word 'Deepavali,' which means a row of lights, Diwali is the most popular Indian festival celebrated by a majority of the state's Indian-American population including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. At about 3.2 percent, Indian-Americans are the largest component of New Jersey's fastest-growing Asian-American group, which accounts for an estimated 8.7 percent of the state's nearly nine million population.
During Diwali, the faithful light their homes and businesses with diyas, which are decorate clay lamps fired by oil. These lamps are kept lit throughout the night to invoke the blessings of Laxmi, the Hindu Goddess of spiritual and material wealth and well being. The lighting of the lamp also invokes the illumination of spiritual knowledge over the darkness of ignorance.
This year, Diwali will be celebrated through November 17, 2012.
"The lamps of Diwali illuminate a path to understanding and awareness of a rich heritage, and also signify the desire for spiritual enlightenment. Closing schools with high Indian-American populations on the first day of Diwali, would honor an important tradition of a growing segment of our state's population and would provide all Indian-American children with the opportunity to celebrate this wonderful festival with their family and friends," Chivukula (D-Somerset\Middlesex) said.
The only South Asian lawmaker in the 120-member Legislature, Chivukula encouraged non Indians to learn about Diwali, either from their Indian friends or by taking a walk down streets like Oak Tree Road in Edison or Newark Avenue in Jersey City.
"It is the mingling of cultures and traditions that help us open our hearts and minds to each other and deepen our human experience. It is the cross pollination of ideas and ideology that fosters our coexistence in harmony," he added. "Perhaps the unity in our diversity is aptly illustrated in the Sanskrit verse below which reverberates through many Indian homes during the festival of Diwali and could apply to people of all faiths."
Sanskrit Shloka from Upanishad
ॐ असतो मा सद्गमय ।
तमसो मा ज्योतिर्गमय ।
मृत्योर्मा अमृतं गमय ।
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः ॥
Om Asato Ma Sad-Gamaya
Mrityor-ma Amritam Gamaya
Om Shaantih, Shaantih, Shaantih
Lead us from the Untruth to the Truth
Lead us from the Darkness of ignorance to the Light of spiritual knowledge
Lead us from Mortality to Immortality or the Eternal
Om, Peace, Peace, Peace
Under current state law, Diwali is included in the list of religious holidays during which students are permitted to be absent from school. The statute ensures that a student's absence on a religious holiday will be recorded as an excused absence and that the student cannot be deprived of any opportunity for any award or of the right to take an alternative test or examination.
Chivukula's measure would urge certain school districts to close schools on the first day of Diwali.
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