Diwali conjures up images of diyas, firecrackers and a wide variety of foods, festivities and gifts. Popularly known as the festival of lights, Diwali is the celebration of good over evil. Clay lamps or diyas are lit to signify the destruction of all negative influences — violence, anger, jealousy, greed, fear or suffering. Each of the five days is associated with different traditions but what remains constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
It is also a time for reaffirmation of hope and commitment to friendship and goodwill. For Indian-Americans, Diwali is a religious and cultural holiday. It is about being Indian and American and both with ease and comfort. Several host Diwali parties either at home or in restaurants where the community can come together to celebrate and share good times.
Some like Manisha Mundhra Beriwala take the festival to corporate America. Beriwala, of Hoboken, New Jersey, is CEO and founder of The Corporate Diwali. She told India Abroad that she dreams of making Diwali as festive and celebrated as Christmas and Hanukkah. Every year since 2005, she has hosted Diwali events with the aim of promoting Indian culture and traditions.
It is also a personal a time to review goals and renew ties with family and friends. Some say its a second opportunity to make resolutions and take time out to appreciate the small things in life."
For some it is also a time to go out of the way to help the less fortunate. Volunteering in soup kitchens or donating food to the homeless is also commonplace.
For some like Nikhil Mandalaparthy, this year's Diwali is more significant as it coincides with the midterm elections.
Voting took place this year just a day before Diwali. "As we prepare to light our firecrackers and diyas with friends and family this year, let us also remember our commitments to a just and peaceful world," Mandalaparthy wrote on in a blog on the Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindu's website. For home cooks like Varsha Pande, it's a time to experiment with traditional and new flavors. "It's all about fun and eating and togetherness," she said.
Here are the voices of several Indian-Americans who hold this celebration close to their hearts, as told to Bhargavi Kulkarni:
'A Holiday of Hope'
Megha Desai, president, Desai Foundation
The Desai Foundation has been hosting Diwali on the Hudson to celebrate our culture while educating our guests about the work of the Desai Foundation. We chose Diwali because we love that it is a holiday of hope — of good over evil, of light over darkness, and the beginning of the New Year. We also love how Diwali is really celebrated through all aspects of our culture — song, dance, fashion, food.
Over the past five years since we started Diwali on the Hudson, we are so thrilled to see more and more Diwali parties pop up — by corporations, by government bodies, by friend circles and by other organizations. It's a great way to educate everyone in America on Indian culture because it's so inclusive and fun. Our events are filled with people from all backgrounds. And who doesn't love getting dressed up in Indian fashion?
The Desai Foundation empowers women and children — so we work hard to celebrate talented women at all of our events. This year we are expanding our work to over 200 villages in Gujarat and Rajasthan — to communities like Baruch, Vasta, and Bardoi. So these fundraisers are a great way to spread the word of our work, and fundraise for our programs like Asani Sanitary Napkins, Kids Health Camps, vocational training and our science school.
'Community Should Stand United This Festive Season'
Tushar Patel, chief of Health Care Quality Management at Federal Bureau of Prisons
Diwali is very significant for me as this is a festival for Hindus where we celebrate the festival of lights and colors which has deeper significance beyond just parties, food and clothes. I believe the community should help each other and stay united regardless of their political or personal belief. Diwali is the time where we can leave our differences and disagreements and come together as one community especially in the U.S., where our voice and strength still needs to be heard and felt and our community needs to be represented at various levels. I am so proud to live in New Jersey as the celebrations have changed over time, as many temples and other places now celebrate Diwali just like back home with decorations, annakoot and many other
rituals. Another thing that was changed was the lifiting of the firecracker ban in New Jersey. Now we can purchase fireworks and light them in our backyards. I will be attending prayer aarti for annakoot at BAPS Temple in Robbinsville and meeting with friends and families and exchanging sweets throughout the day.
'Diwali Will Always Have a Special Place in my Life'
Amit Jani, president of the New Jersey Leadership Program
As an Indian-American immigrant and millennial in New Jersey, Diwali is a special celebration for me, my family and friends within the community.
New Jersey is very diverse and has a large Indian community, so it's very noticeable whether I'm with relatives shopping at Jersey City's India Square, grabbing dinner on Edison's Oak Tree Road or even scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed.
As an Indian-American working in U.S. government and politics, Diwali also has a special connection to politics for me as it usually falls in the same week as elections. As the director of Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) Outreach for Senator Bob Menendez and New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, I was lucky enough to go to various Diwali celebrations and temples during election time, further expanding my exposure to how Diwali is celebrated in all Indian communities.
At home, I grew up sitting with my parents at prayers, ate tons of Indian sweets, and helped to decorate our home with stream after stream of lights. Diwali hasn't changed much for me, the significance still holds true — the symbolism of good over evil, lightness over darkness, triumph over failure. It's a new beginning for a new year, to start over and strive to continue reaching our goals in life. Diwali will always have a special place in mine and my family's lives.
'Time to be Thankful and Cherish the Moment'
Naveen Merhotra, pediatrician and founder of the Shri Krishna Nidhi Foundation
Diwali is about enjoying the festive season and empowering kids to do what they are able to do. It is a time to be thankful for what one has and to cherish the moment. However at home, Diwali has changed over time where, as the family structure has evolved into a nuclear structure, we have lost touch of our extended family. We are not able to come together and celebrate the festivities. The rise of multinationals and a smaller global economy, people are working for other cultures who may not understand the value of Diwali and we are forced to work rather than celebrate the family time.
'In New York, Taste of Diwali is Mingled With Flavors of Pumpkin Pie'
Sapthagiri Iyengar, member, Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus
I have been living in the U.S. for the past 10 years and the meaning of Deepavali and what it represents has certainly evolved over these past years. Back in Mysore, as a kid, Deepavali was keenly awaited for its chief attraction, fire crackers. Occasionally a cousin or an uncle or another relative would visit and add to the festivities. Three days would fly by amid the celebrations and the wait for the next Deepavali would begin all over again. With each year, countless new memories were deposited into the mind that formed a collective illuminative whole called Deepavali until I decided to move to New York.
In New York, no new deposits were made to the memory bank that could match the ones from India but frequent withdrawals became a staple when Deepavali came. The old memories started to evolve slowly and began to adapt to the festivities of New York: The memories of the bright Deepavali lights mingled with the orange hue of the Halloween ghosts and ghouls. The sweet taste of Diwali desserts mingled with the flavors of pumpkin pie. Yes, Deepavali still exists in the memories but more in the context of New York and brings a very different sensation of joy than it used to.
'Let's Ignite the Inner Light In Our Hearts This Diwali'
Anju Bhargava, founder Hindu American Seva Communities
Deepavali literally means a row (avali) of lights (deepa) or Diwali. In essence it celebrates the awareness and eventual strengthening of the Inner Light. This inner light, though not seen outside, outshines all darkness..., awakening the individual to one's true nature, not in the physical, but as the unchanging, infinite, and transcendent reality, the Sat (Truth), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Inner Joy). As I have understood this, for the Hindus, is the very goal of life.
For me, Diwali is now a holiday uniting the world cultures. Celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, commonly referred to as Dharmic traditions, and by those of any, all and no faith. The different stories of Diwali create an interlocked mosaic which is now global. Often, Muslim and Christians participate and artisans of all faiths make the lamps, fireworks and sweets. The lights shine and illuminate the small mud homes and the palatial mansions.
Diwali comes from a tradition of pluralism, a foundation laid by the ancient seers (rishis) of the Vedas. "Ekam Sat Vipra, Bahudha Vadanti.
The Truth is One. The Realized Ones describe the One Truth in several ways." And this common value of pluralism is exemplified in the American ideals of "E Pluribus Unum," or out of many, one.
The rishis creatively brought Vedas to life through the festivals. The festivals are the bridge