Growing up in a secular Sikh household in Delhi, we celebrated Diwali extensively with friends, family, neighbors, colleagues; all 500 of them; you get the picture… The annual (deep) cleaning, decorating, and gift exchanges would start weeks prior, and we couldn’t wait for all the fireworks and Diwali lights which started the day before. Turning the moonless night to a bright spectacle is no small feat but for the combined power of One Billion people all celebrating simultaneously and splendidly. In a lot of ways, the Christmas holidays in the US are a close reminder of the joy and spectacle that is Diwali. The decorated bazaars, the intense gift gathering, the cheer and joy, meeting loved ones, and certainly the food (I happen to be a foodie in case you didn’t know…) are unmatchable.
While the vision (victory of good over evil) and celebration of Diwali is fairly consistent across Indian households globally, the historical significance of the festival seems a bit more varied; something that was a bit of a discovery for me as I prepared for this article. The popular Hindu version celebrates the return of Lord Ram from a 14-year exile after defeating the demon king Ravana, while Diwali marks the spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira (527 BC) for the Jains. For Sikhs, it honors the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru was freed from 12 years of imprisonment, and for Buddhists it celebrates the day that emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism. Even regionally, the stories vary from Lord Vishnu’s victory over Bali, celebrated in Western India, to Narksura’s defeat by Lord Krishna, celebrated in parts of Southern India. Throughout India’s early agrarian society, Diwali also coincided with the last harvest before winter- a time to pray to Lakshmi for good fortune. Today, Indian businesses still consider Diwali the first day of the financial new year.
I grew up in a small business family (retail store selling motorcycle helmets and auto parts) and our version of the celebration started with cleaning/decorating the house with hundreds of diyas and candles, then repeating the same throughout our store. Every store employee participated and we prayed, exchanged gifts, enjoyed sweets and lit fireworks together. After this, and greeting the neighboring shop owners, the celebration continued at home with another prayer, some more desserts and sumptuous meals (think butter chicken and biryani…), often with extended family and friends. The celebration continued late into the night and greetings continued for days.
Today in the US, my daughters (5 and 3) continue to enjoy lighting diyas, decorating their rangoli, and have started associating the festival as a time for feasting on ladoos and other Indian delicacies. We have continued the tradition of lighting fireworks and enjoy an evening with friends, colleagues and neighbors, as well as many hours of facetime greetings with family across the Atlantic. Back in India, the efforts towards reducing air pollution have lead to some alternate/limited fireworks but this has not impaired the charm or the overall splendor of this fascinating celebration. For my family, Diwali continues to symbolize joy, warmth, love, and a time to celebrate.
No matter what your reason to celebrate, the best part about Diwali is always the company of loved ones and of course all the lights, decorations and ladoos…
Aman Singh has been with Graycor for 12 years and currently serves as a Preconstruction Manager within Graycor’s Estimating Department. Aman grew up in Delhi and moved to the United States in 2007 where he continues to uphold Sikh traditions, while simultaneously exposing his family to other cultures and customs present in the US.