NEW YORK — Diwali came early this year in the United States.
On Oct. 5, three weeks before the Hindu festival of lights, the U.S. Postal Service released a Diwali Forever stamp to commemorate the holiday.
The first-day-of-issue dedication event was held at the Consulate General of India in New York. It was a culmination of a decades-long effort by the Indian American community to gain national recognition of a festival marked by more than 3 million people around the United States.
The holiday, which signifies the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance and good over evil, is also celebrated by Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs.
The word, translated literally, means a necklace of lamps.
By 2 p.m., the USPS had already sold more 100,000 stamps, putting the newcomer on track to becoming the most commercially successful first-day launch, said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-Manhattan, who spearheaded the effort in Congress to advocate for the stamp's issue. A resolution calling for the stamp's approval was introduced twice by Maloney, in 2013 and 2015, the latter of which had 71 co-sponsors.
The religious significance of Diwali varies regionally within India, but it is the largest holiday celebrated across the country. This year, it begins on Oct. 30.
It’s a festival that glistens at night.
Paper lanterns are hung from apartment balconies, rows of earthen oil lamps adorn doorways, children gather to burst firecrackers and eat their favorite sweets. Family and friends, dressed in their finest, come together to celebrate.
The Diwali stamp features a warm, glowing deeya, a brightly lit traditional earthen oil lamp, placed on a golden surface with rose petals strewn around it.
The Postal Service receives approximately 40,000 suggestions for stamp ideas annually. The ideas are then reviewed by the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee, which selects about 25 of them for the Postmaster General’s approval.
Ambassador Riva Ganguly Das, Consul General of India in New York, called the commemoration a “long cherished dream” of the community.
One community activist, Ranju Batra, who lobbied for the stamp through the Diwali Project, recalled a phone call from 40 years ago.
“I was rushing to go to work, and my family from India asked why I was working on Diwali,” said Batra, recalling a sense of alienation she felt. But on Wednesday, she was beaming. Her community was finally feeling like an integral thread in the American fabric.
Closer to home, students from the Natya Anubhava Dance Academy, a Yorktown-based Indian classical dance school, are getting ready to perform at the Queens Museum on Oct. 23 at one of many celebrations to mark the occasion.
The director of the school, Nalini Rau, described the new stamp as a “tangible milestone.”
“It acknowledges the contributions of Americans of Indian origin to our society,"said Rau. "The lamp symbolizes knowledge, truth and joy."
Follow Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy on Twitter: @SwapnaVenugopal