Tag Archives: Religious festivals

Diwali – great festival, great syllabus

One of many wonderful aspects of working with the Indian community – as people with IT experience like myself find – is the Diwali festival of lights. It is happening right now and in the office and at school it means sharing delicious highly coloured sweets specially made for the day – one of my favourite lunches of the year! In the streets it means bright lights and fireworks. The etymology behind Diwali is “rows of lighted lamps”.

You will find Diwali in the GCSE Religious Studies (RS) syllabus. For those not familiar, RS first covers broad topics like Matters of Life and Death, Belief in God, Marriage and Relationships and Community Cohesion.  Second, different Units cover different world religions and the sections are Beliefs and Values, Community, Worship and Celebration and Living the Religious Life. Diwali of course as a Hindu celebration is covered.

Diwali’s basis is the victory of good over evil, and has different emphases in different parts of the world. Two of the major focal points are the ending of the Ramayana story in which King Rama is reunited with his long lost wife Sita after fourteen years of exile; and also honouring Lakshmi the Goddess of wealth on day 3 of the 5 day festival. Customs include spring cleaning, making Melas including confectionary, drawing Rangoli or coloured patterns on the floor, sending cards to friends and relatives and it also marks the Hindu New Year and the start of the Business Year.

Diwali also features in the Unit on Sikhism because Sikhs celebrate the release of Guru Har Gobind and 52 Princes from imprisonment at Gwalior Fort. The Golden Temple in Amritsar is lit for the occasion.

The festival, also celebrated in the Jainism religion, occurs annually at the end of November or beginning of October depending on the new moon.  You can see that in India itself the lights are set up in many places such as next to railway tracks. It is highly photogenic as you can see in these examples. 

I followed the RS GCSE syllabus with my son and it is truly fascinating. I am coming from a tradition where the subject matter was essentially Christianity only, with the most radical alternative being the Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis of Chronicles of Nania fame, in which a series of letters portray the various human temptations as viewed by the devil.

RS content varies from multi-ethnic and multi-racial societies, ethics of divorce, to theories on the origin of the world including creation, intelligent design, evolution and the Big Bang theory, which provides the link back to this science blog because Big Bang is covered also in Physics GCSE.  RS also provides an excellent lead into Philosophy and Ethics A-Level.

Finally, the design of the RS GCSE paper itself is interesting. There are two papers, one for general and another for specific religion. In both, the layout is that for each of the four headings described above, four questions are asked, with a choice. They test both the students’ ability to learn the meaning of key words and concepts, and also their reasoned opinion on specific topics.

So in the Worship and Celebration section of the 2014 Edexcel Unit 13 Hinduism GCSE paper, the following question occurs.

Do you think Diwali is the most important Hindu festival? Give two reasons for your point of view.

(Answers for the proposition include celebration of Rama and Vishnu, and the victory of good over evil. Answers against include other festivals such as Navaratri are more important).

RS GCSE – fascinating syllabus! For pupils and parents alike !