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Friday, 20 October 2006

Diwali: More than a festival of lights

Written by Natasha Jaksich
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lights Diwali around the world is known as the “Festival of Lights,” or when lord Rama returned home after a 14-year absence and a battle against the demon king Ravana. It’s a time of year, much like the Western holiday of Christmas, where families gather together in celebration. They pay homage to the gods, eat decadent sweets, dress up in their best attire and light small candles known as diyas around the house.

For me, being of non-Indian origin, I have heard numerous accounts of this festival in the United States. It’s become almost folklore to the Western culture of a time where the entire country of India is lit up in tiny candles. Even the popular Yankee candle company named a musky scent “festival of lights” in Diwali’s honor. This sparked an interest for me to experience this festival first hand in India.

I traveled to India in the month of November to experience what would become not only a cultural awakening, but a deeper respect for many of our own holidays in America that bind us together.

Having traveled to India before, I was aware of the sights and sounds: lightthe women planted like colorful flower buds with their saris, the children playing in puddles of water, and the overflowing amount of traffic like a cup of milk spilled over. During Diwali, the extra pure energy and excitement can be felt even inside the airport, as the week leading up to Diwali is abundant with preparations. The clothing stores are jam packed with women buying outfits, shoes, jewelry and bracelets bedecked with jewels to wear on the big night. 

The food markets are scrounged with shoppers buying decadent food, sweets, and vegetables to prepare a large feast for their family. Products with milk, sugar, and almonds for good luck fly of the shelves. Families visit their neighbors and friends on the days before Diwali distributing Christmas-like gifts and sweets to each other.

Women and children buy colored chalk to make rangoli, or a symbolic decoration to be placed at the entrance of every home, welcoming the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi. Small red footprints are also placed at the doorstep, symbolizing Lakshmi¹s entrance to the household. Strings of lights are put around the house on the outside, similar to Christmas lights. Popular colors are blue, yellow, purple and red.



Every family’s puja, or prayer temple is decorated in marigolds and roses. The smell of incense is so fragrant inside the home; you forget what the smell of unscented air was like. Firework sales also skyrocket, because alongside candles and prayers are the explosions of both small and large 'crackers', as they are known.

diyaThe classic diyas are made out of small clay pots, and soaked in water for several hours to absorb the water in order to hold the oil that will burn the hand-made wick. Other popular styles of diyas are colorful, or tiered with brass work or wood, ranging up to three-feet high. Floating diyas are placed in bowls of water with rose petals.

The night before Diwali is spent in placing hundreds of diyas around the house: at the entrance, in every bedroom, down the hallways, in the kitchen, and even on the balconies of every household. The morning of Diwali, parents greet their children with sweets and wishes of good luck for the upcoming year. Children then light the diyas, which continue to burn throughout the day.

The festivities of Diwali begin when the sun goes down and fireworks begin to be lit in the neighborhood. Colored sparklers and larger crackers make noise as families eat dinner together and say prayers. Each family then visits their neighbors with a basket of sweets wishing them good luck in the New Year.

Experiencing Diwali first-hand was like several American holidays combined into one. Fourth of July with its fireworks, New Year’s Eve with its excitement, Thanksgiving with its feasting, and Christmas with it’s joyous feel.  
Many claim that Diwali is one of the smaller known wonders of the world, because the festival in itself is a sight to behold. I couldn’t agree more.

©Natasha Jaksich

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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