Diwali Also Known as the Festival of Lights
The celebration which will be discussed in this paper is Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights. It is considered to be one of the most significant festivals which Hindu people celebrate all over the world. This festival commemorates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The word Diwali originates from the word Deepavali which refers to a row of lights. In some parts of the world, this festival is known as Deepavali and people in Tibet call it Tihar. This celebration takes place for one to five days depending on the region it is celebrated in. Diwali takes place during the darkest nights of Kartika, a lunar month in the Hindu calendar. In the Western calendar, this would be either October or November. India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal consider it an official holiday where schools and offices have the day off. Even though Diwali was celebrated for the first time in ancient India, the exact time of the first celebration is not known to many of us. This is because it probably happened before history was recorded in some form. During that time, most people were either farmers growing various crops or merchants trading with other countries. Everything that came as a result of the farming ended up being sold or bought. Hence, people were thankful that they were able to get a variety of crops at the end of the heavy rainy season. While nobody knows for how Diwali came to become a major festival, there are many ideas and thoughts which people have regarding this historical aspect. According to some sources, a god named Vishnu considered Diwali a festival where people honor their harvest.
Others think that Diwali commemorates the wedding of the god Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi. Another way which people consider how Diwali was celebrated for the first time is due to the fact that another god named Rama became a king.Diwali eventually became a festival observed by people of religions other than Hinduism such as Jainism and Sikhism. In Jainism, Diwali honors the day when Mahavira, a leader who made Jainism a religion, attained nirvana, or a place of peace and happiness. In the context of Sikhism, Diwali recognizes the time when Guru Hargobind, a guru of the Sikh religion, was free from prison in a small India town called Gwalior. Upon his arrival back in Amritsar, the iconic Golden Temple was decorated with many lamps to honor his return.In addition to being observed throughout India, Diwali has spread to other countries around the world. One such country is the United States. Through the 1950s, it was extremely hard for Indians to immigrate to the US. This was first due to a law in 1917 which prevented Asians from migrating there. After that law was repealed, it t did not get much easier for them due to the fact that Asians and Indians were classified under “Others” in census records. This all changed in the 1960s when the US was flourishing. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act was passed allowing people from other countries to come to the US. Since then, the Indian population in the US has grown exponentially with approximately 3.9 million Indians living there. However, it was not until recent times that Indian-Americans cared about celebrating their own festivals. For instance, Obama’s first Diwali celebration was in 2009 at the White House. In 2013, the celebrations took place at Times Square.Another country which observes Diwali is Fiji. In 1970, Fiji joined the British Commonwealth. At that time, Diwali was the country’s national holiday. However, it was not the focal point of the Hindu calendar in Fiji. When Diwali became a national holiday in Fiji in 1930, it was predominantly celebrated in cities and towns. The problem there was that it did not get emphasized well. People thought of it as a holiday which shopkeepers and immigrants celebrated. In 1950, more people in Fiji began celebrating this festival, particularly in the rural areas. Today, Diwali is the national holiday of Fiji and people decorate their houses with different types of colorful lights and put clay lamps known as diyas in their backyards. In addition, a fireworks display is put on in the night.New Zealand is one of many other countries that celebrates Diwali. This is true considering that it has had a large South Asian population dating back to the 19th century. However, after the immigration laws were loosened in 1987, the population grew exponentially due to the rapid increase in immigrants from Asia. Even though Diwali is a festival of Indian origin, not all South Asians are Indian. Nonetheless, this festival unites people of different backgrounds. Like other countries, Diwali is celebrated either in October or November. While people either celebrate by themselves or with their families, there are also Diwali celebrations which are widely publicized so that the general population can take part in the celebrations. While the cities of Auckland and Wellington have events organized through their city councils, other events are held at smaller venues and cater to the Indian community.
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In addition, multicultural events take place for the overall local community. Since performances are the main highlight of public Diwali celebrations, music and dance performances take place. This shows how Diwali alone is a presentation of the creation of ethnicity and identity in Indian culture. The performers are usually local community groups from within the areas where the performances are being held.Since Diwali is one of the most elaborate festivals, there are many things done to make it special. Beforehand, people make sure that their houses are cleaned spic and span. Most people who celebrate Diwali believe that the goddess Lakshmi comes to every house to bring good luck and best wishes to everyone. If a house is not clean, then the goddess Lakshmi will not bring any luck to them. In addition, wearing new clothing is a tradition for Diwali. Females either wear traditional colorful dresses called sarees which are made from different materials such as cotton and silk and wrapped around the body or a long robe-like dress. Since Indian women love colors, they prefer to wear more colorful sarees which are decorated with beads, sequins, and embroidery. Males wear an Indian top known as a kurta along with loose pants. People also choose to wear normal clothing.One of the most important aspects of Diwali is the rangoli. Rangolis are patterns and designs arranged in a geometric manner which are made in the entryway to a person’s house. They are decorated with different items such as colored sand and rice powder. On Diwali, the Rangolis welcome goddess Lakshmi home. The main components of this festival are the lights, which include oil lamps known as diyas as well as electric lights. The oil lamps, which are made from clay, are lit using a wick coated with an Indian clarified butter called ghee or mustard oil. These lamps are placed in various locations outside the house such as balconies, driveways, pathways, and porches. The electric lights are used as decorations for homes. For Hindus, the significance of the oil lamps is to help them go in the right direction and to be free of darkness or evil spirits. In addition, the lamps allow knowledge to be contained in Hindus. Both the lamps and electric lights help Hindus to understand that knowledge helps them to welcome and greet other people in a favorable manner.Fireworks are another major highlight of Diwali. Many people consider this the best part of their celebrations. They buy plenty of fireworks and firecrackers and light them up after it gets dark. Since they are very loud and noisy, they help to keep evil spirits away.
In addition, they help people to be thankful to the gods for providing them with many things such as peace and knowledge.Sweets are a major food staple for Diwali. People consume sweets together to share their love and affection and to bring joy to each other. This is true due to the fact that being with other people is an important part of Diwali. Many people either make them at home or buy them from stores, restaurants, or bakeries. Ingredients used to make these sweets include condensed milk, yogurt, sugar, chickpea or rice flour, nuts, and raisins. Some spices which are used are cardamom, nutmeg, and coriander. These sweets are decorated and garnished with an edible silver foil known as vark. In addition to sweets, people like to have traditional Indian savory snacks as part of their celebrations for the reasons mentioned above.Even though there is an abundance of sweets which people enjoy having for Diwali, only a couple of them will be discussed here. One such example is the barfi, a sweet cake prepared with condensed milk, sugar, and other ingredients depending on what type of barfi is being prepared. A few examples include pistachios, coconuts, and dry fruits. Laddus are another popular sweet. They are sweet balls made by mixing milk and fried semolina before rolling them into balls. They can get different flavors with additional ingredients such as til (sesame), besan (Indian-style Gram flour), or coconut. Another major desert which people have is Gulab Jamun. This consists of brown deep-fried balls made from milk and flour soaked in a sugary syrup. The last item which will be discussed here is the Jalebi, a crispy orange-colored delicacy. This is prepared by creating a batter of flour, baking powder, and yogurt and then frying it in hot ghee in different shapes before soaking the final pieces in a sugar-flavored syrup.As far as savory snacks are concerned, there are plenty of them which people have for Diwali. One example is the Chivda, which consists of chickpeas, nuts, rice flakes, and fennel seeds mixed together without any cooking involved. Another staple snack, the Chakari, is made by mixing rice, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, gram dal (chickpeas), turmeric, salt, oil, and boiled water to create the dough. Then the dough is shaped into a circular form which is deep-fried in hot oil. After being fried, the Chakaris obtain a brown color and then get removed from the oil. Shankarpali, the last snack being discussed, is also a well-known snack eaten during Diwali. It is made by first boiling milk. Then sugar, ghee, and salt are added to the boiling milk. After mixing everything, fried flour is added to the dough mixture. After it is kneaded, the dough gets rolled and cut into diamond-shaped pieces. Those pieces are deep-fried until they become golden-brown.Diwali has expanded to other countries in the world, primarily due to the growing Indian diasporas there. The most notable one is the United States which was mentioned earlier. When Indians first immigrated there, Diwali was only a small gathering which did not receive much publicity. People would celebrate with each other by having traditional delicacies and sharing memories about how they celebrated in India. Ever since, Diwali has grown in popularity. Major cities host Diwali fairs known as melas. This has helped it to become an established festival in the US. In September 2013, it was celebrated in Times Square in New York for the first time.
When people would watch the New Year Eve ball drop there on their televisions every year, it became so popular that the South Asian event management team planned a Diwali celebration there. This consisted of various events such as rangoli competitions, musical performances, presentation of Indian food, and the presence of Bollywood film stars. At the end of the event, a concert and fireworks show were presented. Due to the high popularity of this celebration, it is possible that it will happen annually. Indian immigrants have blended well with Western culture. This means that while they adopted to the Western world, they have also maintained their Indian culture. This is done through movies, art, music, and literature. Since Diwali tends to be a memorable occasion for immigrants, they make sure that their kids visit India so that they can experience the authenticity of Diwali. Those kids observe how Diwali is commemorated in their parents’ homes and also visit commercialized Indian districts. Their parents do this to make sure that they strengthen their connections with their heritage. These kids, also known as second generation Indian-Americans, have been able to incorporate both Western and Indian cultures into their lives. They understand the Western culture well because they observe it every day. However, it is a little harder for them to understand the Indian culture. They do this by commemorating Indian festivals with their families and visiting India on a regular basis. This younger generation considers Diwali to be a multicultural celebration. During their childhood, they celebrated it with their families. In their adulthood, they are adopting the customs with a Western twist. While they know how Diwali is celebrated in India, they want to educate their kids about this celebration, which involves food, dancing, sweets, and fireworks. This is how the young generation is making Diwali a combination of Indian and Western cultures.