Diwali is celebrated by hundreds of millions of Indians in India and outside of India across the globe. Diwali means, literally, a row of lights. This year it will be celebrated on the 6th of November.
Within India, Diwali is celebrated by different regions rooted in their own distinct cultural traditions. Diwali symbolizes a day when good victored over evil, a day that marks transition from darkness to light, marking celebration of joy, light and prosperity. The day on the calendar symbolically coincides with the night of passing into the first day of new moon. Moon plays an integral role to many of the Indian festivals and celebrations, both joyful and solemn.
There are millennia old mythologies and stories that surround Diwali and these legends mirror the distinctness of the how Diwali is celebrated in various regions in India. One of mythological origins goes that a demon by the name of Naraka was vanquished by God Krishna. Indian legends often are rich in their allegorical references. Naraka represents the times when we were carried away by negative feelings of anger, jealousy and self-aggrandizement. Victory of Krishna here may refer to the restoration of balance and order to our lives with mindfulness and meditative introspection.
In stories from other regions Goddess Kali victored over an army of demons that had plunged earth into darkness. All the Gods couldn’t save the earth and they pleaded with Goddess Durga for help. Goddess Durga took the avatar of Goddess Kali to slay the army of demons goes the legend.
In many regions historically rooted in farming traditions, Diwali refers to end of the cropping season and as a day when farmers say thanks to Goddess Lakshmi for the good yield. Though traditions may vary, common to all of them is the lighting lamps (diya) to welcome light and joy into the home. In some regions it is common to buy gold or silver to thank for prosperity.
Growing up, Diwali was the busiest families ever got. Certainly, the busiest the shops ever got. Shopping for gifts for the extended family, shopping for jewelry, new clothes for the kids. The weeks and the days leading up to it seemed to be consumed by phone calls, conversations, reminders to buy firecrackers or do not forget to call that distant aunt! Kids stayed glued to the calendar in anticipation.
On the day of, everything started early in the morning. We kids woke up before dawn, ready to get to the street with our fireworks. So did every other kid in the neighborhood. Sounds of firecrackers started before dawn. Streets filled with the smoke from the firecrackers. The smell of burnt firecrackers permeated the city. Kids ran back home to say hi to visitors, filled up tummies with sweets and savories and ran back out to be with friends. Neighbors made quick drop-ins. Families traveled across town in the middle of busy day to visit relatives and wish them a happy Diwali.
As the day came to close, a sort of happy exhaustion descended on everyone. The families treasured the memory from Diwali for many days, weeks and months that followed.
My wishes to you for a joyful Diwali filled with light and happiness for days, weeks and months to come.