By Dee Bireddy, WSL parent
“Down with Darkness,
Up with Light…”
Known as the “Lantern Song” in Waldorf schools, this song has been resonating through our house the past couple of weeks, signaling the journey towards the winter solstice.
Throughout the school year, we come together to celebrate festivals that mark the passage of the seasons, which in turn establishes a natural rhythm for the children. Though many of the common Waldorf festivals are rooted in European tradition, at WSL we also celebrate festivals that reflect the cultural and religious traditions of our student body, both in individual classes (often incorporated into the world history curriculum) and within the school at large. Through these experiences, students develop an understanding of and respect for the diverse cultures of the world and celebrate what’s common to us all, our humanity.
Being of Indian origin, this time near the solstice holds a special place for us as it brings in a very special festival called Diwali, or Deepavali—a five-day festival of lights. Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil.
Various legends point to the origin of Diwali. According to one, Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama (along with Sita and Lakshmana) from his 14-year exile and vanquishing the demon-king Ravana. He was welcomed by the lighting of numerous lamps, and the day came to be celebrated as Diwali. In spite of the many challenges thrown at him, Rama kept his humanity intact and was fully engaged and lived a life without regrets, and for this he is revered throughout the world.
Traditionally, the festival is celebrated in India with thousands of diyas (earthern lamps), colored lights, and lanterns being lit, turning each village and town into a fairyland. Celebrations also include fireworks at night and Rangoli designs drawn by hand on pavement near home entrances with colored rice flour.
On Wednesday, Grade 4 students listened attentively as my husband narrated this story of Ramayana, after which the students created beautiful Rangoli artwork. The next day, parents and students were treated to a beautiful, moving play by Grade 5 students that brought this story of Rama’s victory to life. The play is part of the 5th grade study of world history, encompassing the ancient civilizations of India, Persia, Egypt and Greece. Through the study of these civilizations, children at WSL discover the connection between ancient origins and the modern world they live in.
Dressed in lovely traditional Indian clothes, WSL parents Claris Chuah and Shilvaik Bakshi, Yoshiko Mizukami and Harry Reddy, and Tara and Samarjit Shankar gave a brief history and meaning of Diwali, followed by lighting clay lamps in respect for Goddess Lakshmi. We also joined in singing beautiful Indian kirtans (hymns), followed by Aarti and Tilak. As is the custom, delicious Indian food and sweets were shared among the Grade 5 families.
As I reflect upon the Lantern Walk, which is celebrated around the same time as Diwali, I realize that there are many similarities between these festivals. They both celebrate the inner light in the outer darkness of the approaching winter.
My husband and I feel fortunate to be at the Waldorf School of Lexington, where learning is infused with human values, diversity is celebrated, and community is forged through meaningful shared experiences.