Deepawali- A hokie’s take on the Indian festival of lights

Diwali or more correctly Deepawali literally means ‘row of lamps’  and one has to witness it to understand that the most lingering image of diwali is the magnificent array of  lights that lines up the streets. Each and every Hindu household cleans their respective premises and decorate it with flowers and colorful ‘Rangolis’ during the days and with lamps during the moonless night. Legends claim that this is the celebration of Ayodhya on the return of their beloved Rama after fourteen years of banishment, after having triumphed over the evil kingdom of Ravana. Of course there are so many legends to disagree upon as to the origin of this festival but there cannot be any dispute on the festivities. New dresses, sparkling ornaments, delectable delicacies, fun and frolics, songs, dances and generalized merriment marks the day. Sparklers and crackers on the ground and dazzling display of fireworks in the sky illuminate the night, literally symbolizing the victory of brightness (hope) over the gloom of darkness.

My favorite memories are not limited to that one day,  but those in the run up. The plannings and shoppings, the selection of sweets and gifts for the near and dear ones; the anticipation of the return gifts and the ultimate reason for any celebrations, ‘food’ makes diwali very special. Homemade delectable as well as commercially available delicacies vie with each other to tease the taste buds and challenge the resolve of moderations. Over indulgence is the norm and cautions are to the winds. A true victory of the smile over the frown. A night to look forward to …To remember for many a days to come.

Last year during Deepawali, I was for the first time away from home, in a foreign land with new acquaintances who were yet to become friends. The alien culture was taking time to get internalized, strange land was yet to get familiar and life generally swung from the academic hectic-ness to the loneliness of the dorm. Things got really low on the day of Diwali, with no smell of goodies sweets, no sound of crackers, no telephonic greetings, nobody urging for an early shower before the puja. Oh! how I missed the organized madness that is my motherland in its most loveable lunatic frenzy that is Diwali. Actually any half a religious occasion is enough for India to take off into craziness but Diwali tops it all. It is Christmas, New Year, and Forth July rolled into one and multiplied fifty times over. I was in the psychological pits when somebody told me about the ISA’s 50th year Diwali celebrations. I immediately volunteered and immersed myself in the activities.  Around 2000 guests graced the occasion and the association excelled in way of lavish arrangements. Most of my non Indian friends danced to the beats of bollywood or enjoyed the display of fireworks. The normally nerds were magically metamorphosed into insane Indians enjoying every moment of the collective madness. For an evening I was back to the home land with a Sense of responsibility, pride for a great civilization that I hail from…

Though primarily a Hindu festival its cultural aspects transcend the narrow confines of the religious divide. The multiculturalism that is inherent in the common Indian Psyche is best demonstrated during these festivals. Perhaps the huge commercial spin-off of this festivity is largely also responsible this phenomenon but is certainly not the only reason for almost everyone eagerly awaiting the Diwali. At the ISA 50 Diwali bash I missed home a little less and learnt the need for building community and the importance of culture.

I was awakened to the idea of sharing of ideas and happinessand the utilization of the college milieu to nurture differences in cultures and yet celebrate the uniqueness of humanity. It fueled compassion, understanding and tolerance and the dawning of the realization that the global community cannot afford the remain disjointed due to the differences inspite of the wonderful glue of VASUDAIVA KUTUMBAKAM (universal extended family).

This year, as the cultural secretary of the ISA, I sit down reminiscing of the past year and all that was learnt. As a committee, ISA strives to assimilate all possible flavors and to present before its audience a mélange of indian tradition. I look forward to seeing many a fellow hokie , Indian or otherwise, at the event. Celebrating life and its jubilations…


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