I first ‘experienced’ Diwali in 2011, at Little India in Singapore.
I was walking around with two friends when I saw these massive makeshift arcs lining the streets of Little India. Clueless that we were, we thought these were just day-to-day decorations to the community, reflecting the Indians’ colorful way of life.
Little did we know that we were right smack in the middle of a full on Festival of Lights and a season of prosperity for Indians, particularly the Hindus.
I celebrated Diwali properly while a VSO volunteer with Yuva Rural in India, assigned in Nagpur, east of the state of Maharashtra where I was based. When I say “properly”, that means we lit up some diyas (oil lamps) and firecrackers (although I don’t really light one these days), made (well, watched how they make it for me) rangoli (colorful and beautiful designs people put by their doors or house surroundings), participated in the community events, performed the puja, and ate Diwali food!
Lights and Firecrackers
Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, is being celebrated in India for several reasons, mostly religious. Most commonly (or at least that I was made aware of), Diwali celebrates the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom in Ayodhya after saving his wife Sita from the Demon god and his exile in Sri Lanka. According to the Ramayana, Lord Rama’s return to Ayodhya was welcomed by his loyal subjects and celebrated through the lighting of diyas or oil lamps, hence the “bursting” of fire crackers and lighting of fireworks.
My colleague Ratna was the chief instigator, err, organizer for the simple Diwali celebration at our office. She got this oil lamps. They’re really small!
She also played as my fairy godmother and draped me into my first saree ever!
Prayers, songs and dances
The community temple also played songs (and I guess prayers) all the time (and I mean all the time) during Diwali!
They also set-up a pandal (like a stage/platform) wherein prayers were sung and performance were, errr, performed.
I especially liked it when they had the cultural performances of several dances! Every song has meaning of course but I was enjoying too much to ask my translators — the Meshram kids and their friends!
Colors and more colors
With Diwali comes not only lights and firecrackers but of course, colorful-than-usual idols, rangoli powders and other decorations!
My friend Rahul, who happens to be from Nagpur, invited me to their home which is on another side of town. The trip was worth the wait meeting his family and seeing all the Diwali action!
I liked taking pictures of rangoli so much that I took a picture of almost every rangoli I passed by — on the street, by the gates, in a supermarket! Literally, every rangoli, everywhere!
The Puja and the Food
Diwali is also the time to perform Lakshmi puja, a prayer ritual to goddess Lakshmi (and other gods too!) for wealth and prosperity.
So, as part of the celebration, I had my fair share of firecracker bursting and fireworks lighting! And, I observed and participated in a family’s Lakshmi puja and aarti!
Of course, an Indian festival, or any other Indian occasion for that matter, is incomplete without food! I got to taste Auntie’s cooking (and Ratna’s too I think!) and that of their neighbor too!
Being a foreigner who, even after eight months of living in India by that time, remain unknowing of the many facets of Indian and Hindu culture, I consider myself lucky to have experienced Diwali in a truly Indian fashion! I even got Rs. 100 note from Ratna’s neighbor, since I was the youngest of the visiting people! I felt like it’s Christmas and all my aunts and uncles are giving me money! Hehe 🙂
For this, my heartfelt thanks to my adoptive family the Meshrams, to Datta Sir’s family, my colleagues at Yuva Rural, and Ratna’s family. I probably wouldn’t have experienced Diwali the way I did if not for y’all!