Hindu Holidays: Fact Sheet

Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) is the third largest religion in the world behind Christianity and Islam, with nearly one billion adherents. According to the Pew Research Center, about 0.7% of Americans self-identify themselves as Hindu. Originating on the Indian subcontinent, it is often described as a combination of many religious beliefs and philosophical schools.

This fact sheet is designed to assist congressional offices with work related to Hindu holidays. It contains sample speeches and remarks from the Congressional Record, presidential proclamations and remarks, and selected historical and cultural resources. This is part of a series of Congressional Research Service fact sheets on religious holidays in the United States.

Hindu Holidays: Fact Sheet

October 31, 2017 (R45001)

Introduction

Hinduism (or Sanatana Dharma) is the third largest religion in the world behind Christianity and Islam, with nearly one billion adherents. According to the Pew Research Center, about 0.7% of Americans self-identify themselves as Hindu.1 Originating on the Indian subcontinent, it is often described as a combination of many religious beliefs and philosophical schools. "Hindu" originated as the term used by ancient Persians to describe the people who lived beyond the Indus River Valley (in Sanskrit, "Sindhu"). The term "Hinduism" began to be more widely used by devotees on the Indian subcontinent and throughout the world by the end of the 19th century.2

This fact sheet is designed to assist congressional offices with work related to Hindu holidays. It contains sample speeches and remarks from the Congressional Record, presidential proclamations and remarks, and selected historical and cultural resources.

This is part of a series of Congressional Research Service fact sheets on religious holidays in the United States.

Major Holidays and Observances

Hindu holidays are historically observed following the lunar calendar, which is based on the waxing and waning of the moon. In India, observance dates are typically determined using both the solar calendar and the traditional lunar calendar.3 The following are selected major holidays that may be observed throughout the United States.

Holi

Holi is a spring festival, also known as the festival of colors. It falls in late February or early March. On the eve of Holi, some practitioners burn an effigy of the demoness Holika, to commemorate her defeat by a young prince named Prahlada, who was steadfastly devoted to Lord Vishnu. Among many observers, Holi is tied to devotion of Lord Krishna and commemorates his love for his beloved consort Radha. Holi is most known for the practice of playfully throwing colored powder and colored water balloons on family, friends, and strangers.

Diwali

Diwali, or Deepavali, is the Hindu festival of lights. It often falls between mid-October and mid-November, and for some observers coincides with the beginning of the New Year. Although the specific celebrations vary by region and group, Diwali is a celebration of the "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair."4 It is often observed by wearing new clothes, participating in pujas (prayer or worship), exchanging gifts, cleaning the home, lighting oil lamps, participating in festivals, and setting off fireworks.5

Other Significant Holidays

Dussehra

Dussehra, or Dasera, the 10th and final day of the festival of Navaratri, is often observed as a celebration to commemorate Lord Rama's victory over the evil Ravana, as told in the epic text, the Ramayana.6 Dussehra typically falls between late September and early October.

Raksha Bandhan

Raksha Bandhan is a festival that celebrates and honors the bond between a brother and a sister. Ceremonies often include a sister tying a ceremonial thread or amulet called a rakhi around a brother's wrist, as a symbol of her love. The brother provides a gift in return, as a symbol of his promise to protect her. Raksha Bandhan typically falls in the month of August.

U.S. Congressional Recognition

Some Members of Congress make floor statements, issue press releases, or enter Extensions of Remarks into the Congressional Record to recognize federal holidays and observances. The following are some recent examples that may be of assistance in preparing such statements:

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, "CAPAC Members Celebrate Holi," press release, March 13, 2017.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, "In Recognition Of the Diwali At Times Square Celebration," Extensions of Remarks, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 162 (December 23, 2016), p. E1738.

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, "CAPAC Members Celebrate Holi," press release, October 31, 2016.

Senator Ted Cruz, "Sen. Cruz Commemorates Diwali," press release, October 30, 2016.

Representative Ami Bera, "Celebrating Diwali," Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 161 (November 3, 2015), p. H7400.

Representative Mike Honda, "In Celebration of Diwali," Extensions of Remarks, Congressional Record, daily edition, vol. 159 (October 29, 2013), p. H6835.

U.S. Presidential Recognition

One of the many uses of a presidential proclamation is to ceremoniously honor or call attention to certain issues or events. Some proclamations and remarks commemorating Hindu holidays from the Compilation of Presidential Documents include the following:

Statement on the Observance of Diwali—President Donald J. Trump, October 17, 2018.

Statement on the Observance of Diwali—President Barack Obama, November 1, 2013.

Statement on the Observance of Diwali—President Barack Obama, November 13, 2012.

Earlier presidential proclamations are available the Government Publishing Office website.

Historical and Cultural Resources

Numerous resources provide information on the history and culture of Hinduism. Some of these include the following:

The Hindu American Foundation (HAF) identifies as a nonprofit advocacy organization for the Hindu American community. HAF's website includes information about Hinduism and common Hindu holidays.

ShareAmerica, a resource maintained by the U.S. Department of State, includes several entries regarding the celebration of Hindu holidays in the U.S. examples include "Americans celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali," and "Diwali is becoming a big deal in America."

The National Geographic Society provides resources for educators and learners on Hindu holidays, including Diwali, and Holi.

Related CRS Reports

CRS Report R41990, Federal Holidays: Evolution and Current Practices, by [author name scrubbed].

CRS Report R 43539, Commemorations in Congress: Options for Honoring Individuals, Groups, and Events, by Jacob Straus.

Author Contact Information

[author name scrubbed], Senior Knowledge Services Librarian ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])

Footnotes

1.

Gregory Smith et al., America's Changing Religious Landscape, Pew Research Center, May 12, 2015, p. 5, http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/.

2.

J. Brodd et al., Invitation to World Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 83-143.

3.

R. Rinehart, Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice (Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2004), pp. 123-153.

4.

D. Heiligman and V. Narayanan, Celebrate Diwali: With Sweets, Lights and Fireworks (Washington, DC: National Geographic, 2008).

5.

R. Rinehart, Contemporary Hinduism: Ritual, Culture, and Practice (Santa Barbara, Calif: ABC-CLIO, 2004), pp. 149-150.

6.

The Ramayana is one of many Hindu sacred texts. Others include, but are not limited to, the Mahabharata, which contains the Bhagavad Gita, the Puranas, the Upanishads, and the Vedas. (J. Brodd et al., Invitation to World Religions (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 99-103).