In light of the Diwali party this week, Aditi Nim (WG ’15) takes a stab at answering your questions on what the festival is about.
Diwali, or Deepavali as our friends from the South (yes, that’s South India) call it, has always filled me with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Like Christmas, it’s a religious and cultural festival that combines food, friends, family and fun. It’s my favorite time of the year, and I hope the below is able to explain why the ‘Festival of Lights’ is so special.
Diwali 101: Why do Indians celebrate Diwali?
For many Indians, Diwali marks the start of a New Year, and thus is brought in with pomp and festivity. It also has a lot of religious significance. However, one thing to know is that since India is made up of a myriad of religions and cultures, Diwali means different things to different people. For instance, Hindus, Jains and Sikhs (different Indian religions) all celebrate Diwali, but the festival marks three different historic events for each.
Many Hindus celebrate the return (many centuries ago) of their protector, Lord Rama, to his kingdom after 14 years of exile. Jains celebrate that Mahavira, the founder or reformer of Jainism, attained moksh (nirvana) on this day. And Sikhs celebrate that their Sixth Guru, and leader of their religion in 1619, freed himself from prison and returned to their holy city on Diwali day.
So, while Diwali has a variety of nuanced interpretations across religions, a unifying theme for all is the victory of good over evil, or light over darkness. And what makes Diwali special is that most Indians celebrate all the different meanings in religious harmony, together.
And how is Diwali celebrated?
And that brings us to how it is practically celebrated. Deepavali (the original Sanskrit term) literally translates to “row of lights”, and this is what the festival has come to represent to most. Growing up, I remember spending hours first cleaning the house, and then filling lots and lots of small clay lamps with oil and hand cut wicks. We would place these lit up, in rows all along our house, its windows and doors, till the whole place could be lit up with just the glow of the lamps. Like Christmas, it’s when houses look the prettiest, inside and out.
After decorating, we would do a small prayer to Laxmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and ask for her blessings as we headed into the new year. Then, the fireworks (literally) would start. In India, we celebrate by setting off fireworks, for their color and sight, and because traditionally we believed the sound would scare away evil spirits. This would continue into the night, and most doors are left open for people to visit each other with gifts and wishes.
Sounds cool! So, should I celebrate Diwali?
Yes, please. Diwali is a time for people to get together, to share food, drink and celebrations. It’s a time to be happy and share that with your friends, families, and maybe some strangers as well. To learn more, and to celebrate, come to the Diwali party on Thursday at 8:30pm at Hibachi Grill.