Diwali is a huge festival in India. For me, as an American, it’s like Christmas (gifts are exchanged), Thanksgiving (family gatherings), and Fourth of July (lots of fireworks) all in one.
Trying to explain such an old holiday from a non-Hindu’s perspective is a fool’s errand, but I’ll try to summarize what I understand. One of the causes for celebration is to welcome home Lord Rama after 14 years in exile. Another is to celebrate the victory of good over evil. Lamps are lit all night and homes are cleaned to make the goddess Lakshmi (goddess of wealth) feel welcomed in homes.
I’m very lucky to have been here during this festive season, and even more lucky to have such an awesome friend here to celebrate with. Her family and her husband’s family both welcomed me with open arms and truly made me feel at home and part of the family. Wonderful.
Despite the many moving parts to this holiday, the celebration I experienced was quite easy to understand and went as follows.
Ok, lots of food was eaten – even more so than normal in food-obsessed India. And apart from the food you’ll see below, sweets are eaten all day. One is expected to eat sweets at every home visited, and many homes will be visited to wish friends and family a Happy Diwali.
Rang means color in Hindi. Rangoli are designs made using colored sand in intricate patterns or shapes.
From what I understood, this is usually the work of women (though as with chefs, the professional rangoli designers are men). The men of the family I stayed with couldn’t believe I was toiling away under the hot sun for hours and hours letting the sand slip through my fingers, second by second creating a beautiful image.
Thus, as I said recently, I’m happy to be a paradigm breaker wherever I go. India has tons of legacy gender roles that are completely obsolete.
The rangoli is put at the entrance of a home or office as a greeting to visitors.
Below are some pictures of the rangoli. The peacock is the national bird of India, by the way, and also has some traditional significance in Hindu scripture.
Pooja means prayer in Hindi, and this is a religious ceremony after all. The family sung hymns and wrote down their hopes for the future. They made offerings to the gods and solicited their blessings.
Below is an altar I found in one Indian home to give an idea.
Below are pictures of the pooja/prayer and a video as well.
Fireworks are set off to drive away the evil spirits. Based on the amount of fireworks I heard, this place must be full of evil spirits.
Fireworks are actually being highly discouraged nowadays. Apart from the pervasive rudeness here, which means people set off fireworks at 3am without a passing thought that their neighbor might be sleeping, it noticeably raises the already high pollution. The day after Diwali the news channels all showed the increased levels of sulfur dioxide and other byproducts in the air from the fireworks.
Below is a video showing some drummers who came by to perform, with some fireworks happening next door. You can’t here the massive booms happening all around due to the loudness of the drumming so close to the camera, but I promise you there were explosions happening all around.
A Special Dog
We visited a friend of the family and I finally got to meet a special dog that has captured the attention and love of everyone. His name is Goofy and he’s a huge, five-year-old German Shepherd.
Unfortunately, he has a displaced hip and has to hobble around on only three legs. But this setback hasn’t dampened his spirit.
He is usually suspicious of new visitors, but I came with so many people he loves that he had no choice but to accept me without any prejudice.
I petted him and bonded with him and everyone was surprised at how fast we became friends. Then he started licking my face and everyone was shocked. He usually takes a long time to warm up to people.
I’m no dog whisperer, but I definitely have a deep love for dogs.
As night fell, the fireworks and firecrackers began. Goofy hates such noises and was startled and on edge. Where did he take cover? Under my legs! Again, everyone was shocked.
I was just happy to make a new friend 🙂
This was truly a special experience for me. Diwali is one of the two main holidays here, the other being colorful Holi. There is some mystique about India that has me simultaneously scratching my head in bewilderment, yet on the edge of my seat wanting more.
Below some final pictures.