Over a decade-long efforts by numerous individuals, groups, political organizations, and officials, have finally resulted in the United States Postal Service (USPS) issuing a Diwali stamp. “The U.S. Postal Service will commemorate the joyous Hindu festival of Diwali with a Forever stamp,” a press release issued by the USPS stated. “The Wednesday, Oct 5, first-day-of-issue dedication ceremony will take place at the Consulate General of India, New York. The stamp design is a photograph featuring a traditional diya 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 statement also explained the festival of Diwali, also known as Deepavali, 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.
According to USPS, Sally Andersen-Bruce of New Milford, CT, photographed the diya. Greg Breeding of Charlottesville, VA, designed the stamp and William J. Gicker of Washington, DC, service as the project’s art director. The Diwali stamp is being issued as a Forever stamp. This Forever stamp will also be equal in value to the current First Class Mail 1-ounce price.
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.
Indiaspora’s community engagement resulted in over 10,000 letters and postcards being mailed to the USPS urging them to create and release a Diwali Stamp. The organization also launched an online campaign encouraging Indian Americans to call and write their elected officials on this subject. Indiaspora’s blog, social media and newsletters kept up the drumbeat, it said.
“This is the successful culmination of a long-sought goal of the Indian American community, behind which Indiaspora and many other people and organizations put in unyielding and resolute effort,” Indiaspora said, adding its thanks to the volunteer group who helped make the stamp creation possible.
The stamp design is a photograph featuring a traditional Diya oil lamp 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 USPS said in a statement.
“Indiaspora lauds Rep. Maloney for introducing House Resolutions in Congresses to urge USPS to release the Diwali Stamp. Her efforts played an important role in the eventual achievement of this cherished objective of the Indian American community,” Indiaspora founder M.R. Rangaswami said in a statement.
Rangaswami went on to say that the culmination of their efforts showed a maturation of the Indian American community. “We have come of age and are getting more engaged in community issues and also becoming more politically active,” the founder said. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif., was ecstatic with the issuance of the stamp in advance of the festival.
“I am thrilled that the United States Postal Service has issued a stamp to celebrate Diwali,” Bera, a co-chair of the India Caucus in the House of Representatives and the only Indian American currently serving in Congress, said in a statement. “Nearly a billion people around the world celebrate this Festival of Lights, including 2 million right here in the U.S., and this stamp represents the hard work and achievements of all Indian Americans.”
Indiaspora added thanks to Maryland-based physician Dr. Shailendra Kumar for initiating the cause in 2001. Congress in 2007 recognized the significance of Diwali with President Barack Obama lighting a diya in 2009 at the White House.
Also in 2015, in conjunction with the Hindu American Foundation, Indiaspora volunteers walked the halls of Congress, meeting with elected officials and staff members at several hundred congressional offices, and convinced dozens of them to sign on to the congressional resolutions supporting the Diwali Stamp. By the end of 2015, Indiaspora and HAF sent a community letter signed by more than 100 organizations to the Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee urging them to approve a Diwali Stamp.
Ravi and Ranju Batra of New York helped compile more than 400,000 online signatures calling for the stamp in 2013. And Indiaspora, when approached by community leaders in 2014, committed to making the stamp a reality, the organization said. In 2015, Senate India Caucus co-chairs Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and John Cornyn, R-Texas, introduced Senate Resolution 113, calling for a Diwali Stamp in the U.S.
In a conversation with this writer, Ranju Batra said, “Having served as Cultural Chair for 10 years of AIA-NY, I decided to focus and get the Diwali Stamp issued. During 2011-12, as president of AIA-NY, I uplifted the Diwali Celebrations at South Street Seaport to their highest level ever – such that the New York Times recognized that effort and reported that “more than 200,000 people attended the event…”.
Many events were held in New York and in the Congress, with many members of Congress participating, including, Congressmen Grace Meng, Ami Bera, Mike Honda, and Tulsi Gabbard. Carolyn Maloney introduced House Resolution 47 on January 25, 2013 in the 113th Congress calling upon Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee of the United States Postal Service to issue a Diwali Stamp.
Ravi Batra added, “I am so proud of Ranju and Carolyn – the Diwali Girls – who never gave up, and today, the United States Postal Service relented and agreed to issue a Diwali Stamp because these two leaders – Carolyn in Congress and Ranju at the grassroots’ level never gave up!”
“Today, history changes – as Diwali finally join Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Eid to have its own Stamp. India’s 1.2 billion people, represented here by the dynamic Amb. Riva Ganguly Das, India’s Consul General, along with almost 4 million Indian-Americans yearn for such inclusive recognition, and issuing the Diwali Stamp will help USPS’ bottom line. Diwali’s “Light over Darkness” – is intellectual, emotional and financial,” Ranju Batra said.