A group of Washington-area Hindus temporarily turned Charles W. Woodward High School in Rockville into a Hindu temple last Saturday to mark one of the most widely celebrated holidays of their religion.

Diwali, also known as the feast of lights, is the Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil. It commemorates the victory of the Hindu god, Rama, over the demon King Ravana, who tried to destroy the world.

"In India, we would clean and paint our houses and light hundreds of candles, in every nook and corner, to welcome the spirit of Lord Rama, the spirit of goodness," explained Dwarka Gaswami, one of the trustees of the newly formed Hindu Temple of Greater Washington, which meets for worship at Woodward High several times a month.

"In New Delhi and other cities, the government buildings, the banks, the insurance companies are all lit up, with the lights burning all night," he continued. "People visit their relatives and friends, leaving presents of sweets and fruits."

The dazzling displays of lights that are central to the celebration in India were missing because the local fire code forbade the use of either candles or the traditional Indian clay lamps in the school building. The Hindus celebrated instead with traditional songs and dances and prayers -- the women dressed in their most colorful saris and the men in business suits.

An important part of the Diwali celebration is prayers "to the goddess Lekshmi, to bless everyone with happiness and wealth," Gaswami said.

Diwali actually fell on Monday, Nov. 15, but the Washington-area communal celebration was postponed until Saturday, when more people could take part.

Gaswami said about 40,000 Hindus live in the Washington area. He said the objective of the recently incorporated worship group is to build a temple here as "a place of worship for all Hindus, to enhance the Indian heritage and traditions and to provide humanitarian services to everyone."