Diwali Cultural Celebration

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An important tenet of Montessori philosophy is the recognition of all of humanity as a part of a global family. The “global citizen” aspect of Montessori values the wide and beautiful tapestry of ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and takes seriously the responsibility of raising our children to be open-minded and open-hearted. Part of this practice begins with introducing them to people from different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, as well as the celebrations of such groups. On October 19th, the Diwali Hindu festival of lights began. Villa di Maria’s Elementary students were eager to celebrate.

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Diwali is India’s most important holiday of the year; it is as important to Hindus as Christmas is to Christians. The festival of lights (which occurs over the course of five days) symbolizes the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness, and occurs every autumn. Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that is celebrated by most Indians, regardless of their faith, and most accurately represents the victory of good over evil.

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The entire elementary gathered together to celebrate Diwali last week. Alongside several students who played, drummed, and sang, Upper Elementary Directress Rebecca Callander performed the Hindu song, “Listen to My Old Soul Song” for the group. The song came together so nicely, with the children and Rebecca working together during the performance.

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The word Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit word “deepavali,” meaning “series of lighted lamps.” The children lit a number of candles to represent the return of the deities Rama and Sita after their 14 years of exile; in the story, the villagers lit oil lamps to illuminate the path through the darkness. The lights also celebrate Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

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An image of the Demon King Ravana

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Goddess Lakshmi, painted by Raja Ravi Varma in 1896

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Lower Elementary Directress Anna Schwind presented the Diwali story to the children, split into two groups, with much enthusiasm. She always has a captive audience, and is truly a gifted storyteller. Here, she retold and acted out the story of Ramayana, in which Lord Rama rescues his wife Sita from the Demon King Ravana, who happens to have twenty arms and ten heads!

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After the the story of Diwali, the children headed outside to the pavilion, where an activity awaited them!

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Lower Elementary Directress Megan Eilers had set up a rangoli activity for the children to complete. Rangoli, a colorful design made on the floor near the entrance of one’s home, is meant to welcome guests and encourage the goddess Lakshmi to enter. Rangoli can be made from chalk, colored rice, flour, sand, or even flower petals. Here, the children worked with cardboard patterns with sticker designs and sand. Many of them chose to take their patterns home to finish later, as it was a long and involved (and enjoyable) process!

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The results were beautiful!

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While one group enjoyed rangoli, the other was treated to a short meditation lead by Upper Elementary Directress Rebecca Callander.

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The children were also encouraged to try several traditional Indian treats, included mango drink, crushed peanut chikki squares, till laddoo (sesame brittle), muruku (rice snacks), jalebi, and apple slices.

In the Montessori tradition, children are guided beyond just acceptance of multicultural ideas; through their cultural, hands-on studies, they are shown to understand, appreciate, respect, and celebrate many cultures so that they may come alive in the child’s mind.