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Diwali on Long Island brings light, feasts, gifts and prayer

Thousands of Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists on Long Island Thursday celebrated Diwali, a major holiday in India known as the "Festival of Lights."

The faithful lighted their homes with lamps, donned new clothes, served up feasts and sweets, exchanged gifts and prayed as part of the five-day observance, which celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

"It's a very beautiful festival," said Sonia Bawa, a leader at Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Center in Plainview. "It's full of joy, happiness and love for each other."

At Asamai Hindu Temple in Hicksville, the heart of Long Island's "Little India," the faithful started arriving at 7 a.m. Thursday, bringing sweets for the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, said the temple's priest, Mani Sharma. Hundreds of people streamed through the doors throughout the day and evening, he said.

Nearby, at Gurdwara Guru Nanak Darbar, a Sikh temple, large crowds also came to pray, light lamps and sing hymns, said Paramjit Singh Bedi, the temple's president. "This is a big day. Everybody is celebrating with the happiness."

The temple was to remain open until about 11 Thursday night, he said.

Each religion has different reasons for celebrating the holiday, though all generally light lamps or electric bulbs to signify the victory of good over evil.

For Sikhs, Diwali marks the release from prison of Guru Hargobind Singh -- one of 10 founding fathers of Sikhism -- and his freeing of 52 Hindu princes wrongly imprisoned by the emperor. Some Hindus celebrate it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura.

Satya Sharma, a Hindu who is a professor of engineering at Stony Brook University, said Diwali "is like Christmas for Hindus," with the faithful buying many presents for relatives and friends. Like others, he planned to keep lamps on at his house until about midnight to make sure the goddess of wealth could enter.

While Diwali is a five-day celebration, Thursday was the main day of observance, Sharma said.

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