Today, we celebrate Diwali– one of the brightest and best known festivals in India. Today’s blog post serves to put together my experiences and knowledge of this festival, its significance, and how it is celebrated.
The festival of Diwali, also called the festival of lights, represents the triumph of good over evil and is celebrated by Hindus the world over. For those that are unaware, there are a plethora of deities in Hinduism, deities associated with various events, festivals, emotions and objects. However, I should clarify that although there exist a large number of deities in Hinduism, the belief is in one supreme God with various incarnations. To be honest, I am unsure of the actual number, but a quick Google search brings up various articles that estimate that number to be in the hundreds of millions.
Depending on your beliefs (they vary by region, religion, etc.), it is the day Lord Ram returned from 14 years of exile, after slaying the evil Ravan, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. It is said people lit diyas (earthen lamps) to help light the way for Lord Ram to come home. The diya is now synonymous with Diwali, and is still common tradition, with most households lighting at least one diya. In addition, it is also believed that lighting a diya on Diwali welcomes Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth into the home.
It is a happy time, when families come together to perform traditional pujas together to thank the Gods. Since this day also marks the New Year in the Hindu calendar, families pray for prosperity. The puja normally consists of lighting incense and diyas and making offerings of food and wealth to the Gods to thank them for their blessings.
This is traditionally followed by the younger members of the family seeking the blessings of their elders, and the family exchanging gifts. Then comes my favorite part- the food. The Diwali family dinner is a traditional event, which entails preparation of traditional Indian cuisine served on new or special silverware. Among other things, the meal centers around succulent potatoes and green peas cooked in mouth-watering vegetable gravy, served with raita (a concoction of yogurt mixed with some spices, and finely chopped tomato, onion and cucumber). This is accompanied by puri, a kind of thin bread that is fried and inflates into a ball.
After the traditional dinner, families tend to visit close friends and relatives to convey their regards and best wishes. This also provides an opportunity to enjoy the rangolis, traditional patterns made out of colored powder. These beautiful patterns take hard work and patience to create, but result in a beautiful final product. I have fond memories as a child, of my brother and I helping our mother create hers, or sometimes even creating our own little rangoli for our family and friends to admire.
Apart from the warmth, great food, beautiful lights and decorations, Diwali brings an additional charm for kids- firecrackers. Children partake in lighting all sorts of fireworks, big and small, loud and louder, and enjoying the beautiful images and formations they create. While great for kids, this aspect of Diwali is not something everyone agrees on. I remember my brother and I swearing off fireworks close to when I was 12 or 13 years old, after we learned about their harmful effects.
These firecrackers are NOISY and go on late into the night. They prevent people from being able to hear themselves think, let alone sleep. I won’t even go into the harmful impact they have on pets. They increase pollution levels significantly, releasing insane amounts of poisonous and toxic substances into the atmosphere, which we then breathe. They are responsible for a number of respiratory illnesses and result in burns and injuries during this happy time of the year. Not to mention the child laborers and the horrendous conditions in which they work to manufacture these fireworks for other children.
Fortunately, there seems to be hope. Awareness seems to be increasing. Government and private organizations are running campaigns. And the results are already evident. The papers are reporting fewer children bursting firecrackers, and industry groups are reporting sales decreases of up to 30% this year. Good news for all. 🙂
Anyway, as for us, we plan to celebrate this Diwali. Maybe not with the same intensity that we used to back home, but we certainly won’t let it pass without event. Honey Bee has chosen to decorate the house with special lights. Later in the evening, we plan on performing a tiny puja at home, and lighting some candles, followed by a dinner out at a nice Indian restaurant with friends.
And no matter where you are, let me take this opportunity to wish you and your family a very Happy Diwali, and a prosperous new year!