As an Indian-American who grew up celebrating Diwali yearly, I’ve by no means fairly been in a position to clarify it in a sentence. I’ve described it to non-Indian associates as “the Christmas of India,” in that it is the largest and most well known nationwide vacation. I’ve additionally referred to as it “the Pageant of Lights,” since many have a good time gentle diyas, or clay lamps, to welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, into their properties to be blessed with wealth and prosperity.

The writer and her mom celebrating Diwali 2016 at Sri Bhaktha Anjaneya Temple in Frederick, MD.

However the fact is, in contrast to Christmas or Hanukkah — each broadly celebrated throughout the US throughout this season — Diwali is a shape-shifting vacation. There are a whole bunch of holidays on the Hindu calendar, and Diwali is the largest. Completely different folks from completely different locations of origin or faith have a good time it on completely different days, in several methods. Typically it is a four-day competition, generally 5.

Diwali is a shape-shifting vacation. Completely different folks from completely different locations of origin or faith have a good time it on completely different days, in several methods.

In accordance with Nationwide Geographic, Hindus interpret the Diwali story based mostly on the place they reside. In Northern India, they mark the story of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps — a part of the mythological story informed within the well-known work The Ramayana. In Southern India, folks have a good time it because the day Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura (additionally based mostly on mythology). In the meantime, in Jainism, one other faith, Diwali marks the nirvana or non secular awakening of Lord Mahavira. And for Sikhs, it celebrates the day a serious guru was free of imprisonment.

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Right here within the US in 2006, Kelly Kapoor (performed by Mindy Kaling) hilariously celebrated Diwali on The Workplace together with her coworkers. This author explains why she thinks this episode works as a superb starter illustration of Indian tradition in Hollywood (and I agree). However after watching “Diwali,” we nonetheless do not know what it actually means to greater than a billion individuals who have a good time it in India and world wide. And maybe that is a lofty place to start out, however why not?

The writer in New Delhi, India, circa 2000, celebrating Diwali with household and neighbors.

When a convention with such numerous and complicated origins is transported by a era of Indian folks to locations like america — the place an intersection of cultures, experiences, and influences prospers — Diwali will get deconstructed, DIYd, mashed up, and remixed. Some common markers of Diwali are setting off fireworks and sparklers, meant to specific pleasure on earth to the gods within the heavens; the change and sharing of sweets, as a result of why not; and the portray of an exquisite rangoli on the entrance doorstep to welcome Lakshmi and luck. It is a time for non secular and non secular reflection, for sharing and celebration. It’s a colourful and festive begin to a brand new yr. More and more, it is rather industrial. However like many, I borrow what’s significant to me concerning the vacation I grew up with and create my very own metaphors for every of those acts.

Diwali will get deconstructed, DIYd, mashed up, and remixed.

To me, the style of Diwali is good and savory: home made masala dosas, laddus (a well-liked Indian candy), and a wide range of different sweets and snacks, eaten all collectively for breakfast. The custom in South India, the place my household is from, is to put on one thing new for Diwali. My mother will acquire and place these clothes objects inside a small altar at residence to be “blessed” by Lakshmi earlier than we put them on. She may have a puja, or ceremony, to obtain these blessings. The home could be lit with oil lamps, the entrance doorstep painted in colourful powder, and we’d play classical Indian music carried out on a nadhaswaram, a conventional Indian reed instrument. All of this may occur earlier than I headed off to highschool, since I did not take a break day for the vacation. Within the Indian neighborhood the place I grew up in Maryland, many individuals have been from Northern India, and my household was from the South. This meant that even throughout the Indian neighborhood, the way in which my household celebrated Diwali was completely different. (I additionally beloved how my mother was keen to interrupt the legislation for Diwali by setting off “pattas,” or fireworks, in my suburban Maryland neighborhood!)

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As we speak, if I can not have a good time with my household, I attempt to approximate Diwali with a dinner out with associates in New York. My sister and I’ll journey to Jackson Heights, Queens — a melting pot of a neighborhood with a big Indian inhabitants — to purchase enjoyable Diwali tchotchkes (assume clay lamps, small shiny statues of Ganesh and Lakshmi, and bins of sweets) to share with our non-Indian associates who be part of us, in hopes of unlocking the mysteries of the vacation for themselves. There is no puja or non secular facet, however there’s a feeling of renewal and connection.

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A sweets store in Jackson Heights, Queens, New York.

I’ve by no means had entry to a tough and quick rationalization of what Diwali is, and maybe that is a perform of holidays themselves. As future generations change into extra numerous, multifaceted, multiracial, and multilayered — and our identities discover their origins from throughout oceans, cultures, religions, and tales — we’ll proceed to construct our personal methods of celebrating these wealthy traditions. Proper now, in America, it appears like a significant time to recollect our roots within the methods which are most significant — and enjoyable — to us.

Picture Supply: Ranjani Gopalarathinam


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