Christmas came early this year as the lights of the holiday merged with the fireworks of the Fourth of July during my first Diwali in India. I celebrated Diwali in Delhi, where I visited extended family and friends that I haven’t seen in years. Diwali is known as the “festival of lights,” or spiritually, the “awareness of inner light.” Hindus believe that there is something beyond the physical state of being which is eternal and infinite, called the Atman. Diwali is the understanding and celebration of this inner light, and with the awareness of the Atman comes Ananda, bliss and inner peace. Hindus have specific events associated with Diwali, the most significant being the return of Lord Raama to his Kindgom after defeating Ravana (the demon king) in the epic story of Ramayana. It also celebrates the slaying of demon king Narakasura by Lord Krishna. Both signify the victory of good over evil, which is celebrated through 5 days of fireworks, lights, flowers, sweets and worship.
My Diwali in Delhi was an amazing experience. The whole city was lit up and fireworks filled the sky from all parts of town. During the days preceding Diwali, Delhi is host to large functions called “farmhouse parties,” where family and friends gather together in large houses and bungalows to play cards and gamble throughout the night. It is a greeting of old faces and new ones, as people mingle in good food and company with the hope of Diwali’s auspicious nature bringing them good luck in the year. I couldn’t quite grasp the Indian card games of “teen patti” and “flash,” so I happily promoted myself to the role of Laxmi, promising to bring luck and fortune to whoever would let me be their partner (and I would share in their winnings, of course). The actual day of Diwali features a family pooja, or prayer ceremony, followed by fireworks and a large meal. I’ve learned from day one in India how precious the culture takes its food, and how you must finish your plate and accept seconds, thirds, and even fourths, or risk offending, or even worse, hurting, the host. Nothing makes an Indian woman more proud then overstuffed guests, and in Diwali, it’s taken to the extreme. After being blessed by the Pandit, we went outside in the square and lit fireworks with the rest of the neighborhood. It was seriously a sight to be seen as everyone from grandchildren to grandparents gathered together and lit the crackers, with the explosion of light and sound going on for miles all over the city and all over India. The final touch was a large band of fireworks that I lit for a 45-minute display that rivaled New York on the Fourth of July. I’m not sure how safe that was in a small backyard, but as they always say, in India anything goes.
I am so excited to have been here for this celebration that I have known about since childhood yet have ever to fully experience until now. Diwali is celebrated by Indians of all classes all over the world, yet here in India it is a unique occasion for the rich, poor, young, and old to come together and celebrate the inner light in their lives.