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Worldwide Hindus concerned at Diwali being labeled as 'blasphemy' in Cook Islands
Hindus worldwide are concerned as celebration of their annual festival Diwali is being reportedly condemned as 'blasphemy' in Cook Islands by a religious leader. This religious leader reportedly labeled Diwali, most popular Hindu festival, a 'paganistic or heathenistic practice' and talked about 'its hidden spirit of sorcery and witchcraft' and urged to 'put a stop to this paganistic nonsense'.

Diwali, which fell on November 03 this year, was reportedly celebrated on Rarotonga, most populous island of the Cook Islands, on November 9, where organizers extended an open public invitation and where hundreds of people turned up to celebrate; which included music, dancing, food, cultural display and speeches.

Distinguished Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that Hinduism was the oldest and third largest religion of the world with about one billion adherents and a rich philosophical thought and it should not be taken lightly. Symbols of any faith, larger or smaller, should not be mishandled.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, urged Frederick Goodwin, Henry Puna and Teina Bishop; Queen's Representative, Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister respectively of Cook Islands; to thoroughly investigate the issue and ensure the Hindu community that its religious rights were protected. Article 64(1) (d) of the Cook Islands' constitution granted: "Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion".

Rajan Zed further said that existence of different faiths showed God?s generosity and bountifulness. Different religions were simply different human responses to the one ultimate Reality.

Despite our seriously different traditions, we all should learn from each other and live harmoniously together in mutual trust, loyalty and peace as we were headed in the same direction, Zed stated.

An inclusive and broader understanding of religion was needed as true relationship with God could exist in each of the great faith traditions. Religion was much more than one?s own particular tradition/experience, Zed noted.

New Zealand's High Commissioner to the Cook Islands Joanna Kempkers and Principal of Tereora College (the National College of the Cook Islands) Bali Haque also addressed this Diwali gathering and various Hindu community leaders, including Avinesh Naiker and Anand Raj Naidu, participated; reports suggest.

According to Rajan Zed, Diwali, the festival of lights, aims at dispelling the darkness and lighting up the lives and symbolizes the victory of good over evil. Hindus worship goddess of good fortune and beauty Lakshmi, god of wisdom and auspiciousness Ganesh, and mountain Goverdhan on this day.

Also on this day, coronation of Lord Ram was held, Lord Hanuman was born, Lord Vishnu returned kingdom to monkey king Bali of Kiskindha, Lord Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi married, Lord Krishan killed demon Narakasur, and ancient king Vikramaditya was crowned.

On this day of forgiveness, festivities, and friendliness; families and friends get together for worship followed by a sumptuous and elaborate feast. It is also considered a harvest festival. Besides Hindus, Sikhs and Jains and some Buddhists also celebrate Diwali.

Cook Islands in South Pacific Ocean, first settled in the 6th century and formed of 15 widely-dispersed volcanic islands and coral atolls, is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand whose economy centers on tourism.

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