By Surekha Vijh
WASHINGTON: The U.S. Postal Service commemorated the joyous Hindu festival of Diwali with a Forever stamp on Oct 5, capping seven-year-long efforts by Indian-Americans and American lawmakers to commemorate the festival of lights.
The stamp was unveiled at the Indian Consulate at an elaborate “first-day-of-issue” dedication ceremony yesterday.
The stamp design is a photograph featuring a traditional diya or an earthen oil lamp beautifully lit, sitting on a sparkling gold background. Diya lamps are usually made from clay with cotton wicks dipped in a clarified butter known as “ghee” or in vegetable oils.
The ceremony was attended by Consul General Riva Ganguly Das, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, Diwali Stamp Project Chair Ranju Batra, USPS Vice President for Mail Entry and Payment Technology Pritha Mehra, India’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, Indian American community leaders Ranju Batra, and eminent Indian-American attorney Ravi Batra.
“Today, Diwali has received its long awaited commemorative stamp and rightfully joins the ranks of other major religious and cultural holidays such as Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Eid,” Congresswoman Maloney said.
“It has taken many years of hard work and advocacy, including thousands of petition signatures, multiple meetings with Prime Minister Modi, personal appeals to President Barack Obama, and multiple Congressional Resolutions but light has finally triumphed,” she said
“The Diwali stamp would not have become a reality without the “tireless efforts” of thousands of grassroots supporters across the country who wrote letters and signed petitions. This stamp represents the triumph of knowledge over ignorance, lightness over dark and good over evil. These values, these virtues, are more important and relevant than ever before and I am thrilled that after many years of fighting for this stamp it has finally become a reality,” Maloney added.
Pritha Mehra said the postal service was “honoured” to issue the Forever stamp that celebrates the Festival of Diwali. “We hope these stamps will light up millions of cards and letters as they make their journey through the mailstream,” she said.
Consul General Riva Das said she was “honoured” to be part of history as the USPS releases the Diwali Forever stamp. “Now for the first time there is a stamp that celebrates Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists as Americans forever.” Das said.
Ravi Batra said since the start of the American Revolution, “destiny has beckoned the US and India to be the closest allies” and the Diwali stamp “represents nothing short of respectful inclusive indivisibility within America and between two sovereigns.
“The Diwali stamp will be a matter of pride for generations to come,” Ranju Batra said.
Sally Andersen-Bruce of Connecticut photographed the diya and Greg Breeding of Virginia designed the stamp, with William Gicker of Washington serving as the project’s art director.
Also known as Deepavali, Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil. Spanning five days each autumn, it is considered by some to be the start of the New Year.
On the Hindu calendar, Diwali falls on the eve of or on, the new moon that occurs between mid-October and mid-November. In 2016, the main day of the festival will be celebrated Oct. 29 for South Indians and Oct 30 for North Indians.
Diwali is a shortened version of the Sanskrit word Deepavali, which roughly translates as “a necklace of lights.” During Diwali, the flickering oil-wick diyas sprinkle the homes of observers around the world.
Before the festival, many Hindus traditionally go shopping, clean their homes, open their doors and windows, create intricate rangoli, a vibrant floor pattern traditionally made from materials such as rice powder, colored sand and flower petals. In some regions of India, people play games, just as Hindu lore says that the god Shiva did.
On the festive main day of the holiday, families light diyas pray for Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, dress up in their best clothes, enjoy lavish feasts and sweets, exchange gifts and light fireworks.
The Postal Service receives approximately 40,000 suggestions for stamp ideas annually from the public. Stamp subjects are reviewed by the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee. Of that, approximately 25 topic suggestions for commemorative stamps are selected by the Committee for the Postmater General’s approval.