With its string of lights, Diwali is one of the grandest Hindu festivals. It signifies good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. Isn’t this exactly our state of being, of our countries and our planet?
While crisp wintry air is almost here, we are at a threshold. Not to mention, change is around us. The USA has a new President-Elect, a vaccine on its way, and the Stock Market is hopeful. Then, could this be that magical moment from the book Prophecy by psychic Sylvia Browne? She prophesizes the pneumonia-like illness in 2020 will disappear mysteriously after a winter of absolute panic. So, here’s to hoping for the light and the beauty of possibility! For now, we are immersing in Diwali celebrations. Markedly, it might feel a little reluctant this year. So much pain and suffering around us. But, we all need our pursuit of happiness. That is why ancient wisdom initiated and devised these traditional forms of jamboree!
Diwali as a Kid
I have fondest memories of Diwali over a 5-day blast. A long school break, people visiting each other, and relatives making stay-overs. Preparations would begin in advance. There was a feeling of festivity, of merriment. This was a particular time of exuberance and spending. Mostly, because there was no online shopping and an urge to shop the entire year. So, everyone would shop for new clothes to wear over the upcoming 5 days and to use over the entire year. Deep cleaning the house, sometimes a fresh coat of paint and additions such as new furniture or curtains was ritualistic. We would put up string lights and a lantern Aakaashkandil to raise the already high spirits. I remember making handmade Diwali greeting cards with pop-ups, origami, and glitter. We would help our Mom prepare homemade dry snacks or Namkeen, sweets, or Mithai and stock up in advance.
The 1st day of Diwali, Dhanteras, is a big day for all the Shopkeepers and merchants. It is believed to usher prosperity & wealth. People shop for gold or silverware to bring good fortune.
On Day 2, Narak Chaturdashi, everyone would wake up and bathe before sunrise. Usually, using a unique fragrant body scrub – the Utna. It is a belief that if you are ready by the golden hour, you secure your position in heaven afterlife. Maybe a trick to wake up the kids before dawn. But, it always worked on me for fear of landing in hell. Nevertheless, this is the most memorable time. The family gathers together for Goddess Laxmi Puja prayer, followed by Chai, Snacks, and Sweets. People decorate homes with rows of clay lamps in the golden hour. The floors are adorned with Rangoli’s design patterns. And then, the clamorous sounds of firecracker festivities everywhere. All celebrations symbolic of welcoming King Rama & Sita to Ayodhya, returning after defeating the demon Ravana.
On Day 3, friends and families visit each other. They exchange gifts and savor sweets and snacks. Everyone wishes happiness and cheer for the season.
Day 4, Padwa is an ode to the bond between a wife and husband, father, and daughter/ son. It also regards agricultural symbolism known as Annakut (heap of grain). Communal meals prepared and dedicated to Lord Krishna. Thereupon, shared with the community and devotees.
Day 5 is Bhai Dhuj, figurative of a brother and sister’s love and bond. On this mythological day, after slaying demon Narakasura, Lord Krishna visited his sister Subhadra. She warmly welcomed him with sweets and flowers and a tilaka on his forehead.
Diwali in Jersey City
I have lived in the US for 15 years now. I miss India’s Diwali festivities and my family so much. Yet, we try to keep traditions alive. We follow the rituals each day and replicate the enthusiasm in this part of the world. Here in Jersey City, there is a Little India. This time of the year, they decorate the street, and everyone is ready to regale. The grocery shops sell clay lamps, and decorations and the tiny sweet shops amass in treats. Many Indian restaurants have Diwali parties with Indian food, groovy Bollywood music, and dance.
This Pandemic year, we may not see it all in a full gush. Yet, the human spirit needs to find gratification and elation in the face of gloom and murk. After all, Diwali transcends religions and countries. Moreover, it signifies bliss, jubilance, and triumph for all.
Just a Little Bit More …
~ William Simpson’s Chromolithograph of 1867 CE labeled as “Dewali, feast of lamps”
~ For the itinerant, Dev Diwali in Varanasi
~ Examples of Tilaka