On Wednesday, November 7th, millions of people around the world will celebrate the festival of Diwali. Though most popular in India because of the large Hindu population, Diwali is also officially recognized as a festival in countries such as Pakistan, Fiji, Guyana, Malaysia, Singapore, and Nepal. You’ve probably heard of the festival by watching the “Diwali” episode of The Office written by Mindy Kaling, or you remember Obama wishing people a “Happy Diwali” in 2009.
So, what is Diwali? Simply put, Diwali is the festival of lights.Throughout India, many different gods and goddesses are associated with Diwali. Some say that in the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, Diwali marks the day that the heroes, Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman, defeated the evil demon king Ravana. Others believe the festival is in honor of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Despite varying beliefs about the origins of Diwali, the festival universally symbolizes good defeating evil, light overcoming darkness, and knowledge prevailing over ignorance.
Diwali is a five day festival. The third day is traditionally the darkest night of the Hindu calendar year so people illuminate their homes with diyas (candle holders), lanterns, and fireworks to keep the darkness away. Families prepare large feasts, and decorate their floors with colorful, intricate designs made of dyed flour and rice called rangolis.
For many, Diwali represents a time when communities and families come together and bond. It’s the day when Indian and Pakistani forces gather on the border between the countries and exchange sweets to celebrate. Outside of India, people of South Asian heritage keep the festival alive by hosting Diwali parties, lighting up their houses with candles, and making traditional Indian food.
For me and several other Indian American people, Diwali represents a way for many of us to celebrate our Indian culture and spend time with our families. My favorite part of the festival is when my aunts, uncles, and cousins come to my house at night to light fireworks and eat delicious food. I sometimes question if the world will ever be a better place, but the festival of Diwali reminds me that there is still light in the darkness.