Deepavali is a celebration of light and good over evil. It gives us a message that is now more important than ever. Throughout India, Deepavali (or Diwali in Northern states) is celebrated for different reasons. Still, the idea remains the same: good will always triumph over evil.
In the Southern regions of India, some people believe Diwali signifies the victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasura. Others think it commemorates the wedding of Vishnu and Lakshmi, while some observe it as the birthday of Goddess Lakshmi. Whatever the origin of Deepavali, Hindus worldwide pray for the health, happiness, prosperity, and success of their loved ones and the world. It’s a time for celebration but also for reflection, gratitude, and humility. Deepavali is a chance to recognize that what is deemed good in the world will always shine through whatever evil unfolds.
During Deepavali, deepams or diyas (oil lamps) are lit throughout homes on the night of the new moon to invite Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Houses are often decorated and deeply cleaned. In my own home, I remember the frenzy of my mom panicking for us to wake up, shower, and get the house prim and proper. It’s a memory etched into my brain forever.
I never experienced Deepavali to the extent that my parents and family did in India. However, my parents and the Portland-area Indian communities I grew up in tried to connect younger generations to our spirituality (in whatever capacity that may be) and culture. This translated to family friend parties, where large families got together and ate traditional Indian food from various regions, laughed, and lit sparklers in our front yards. We’d watch our mothers and aunties compare their newest sarees and inspect each other’s jewelry (some a little too closely). Our elders would reminisce about Deepavali back in India with big smiles. Occasionally, an uncle-that-speaks-too-much would recount a dramatic Deepavali childhood disaster story, with gasps, groans, and laughs heard intermittently.
Deepavali was always an exciting time for me. When I was younger, my grandparents would send packages from India with gifts—a new salwar kameez dress for me and my parents’ favorite treats from home. As my grandparents and I grew older, the packages stopped coming, but the feelings of joy and gratitude for family and this special holiday never subsided.
I always thought I was lucky to be able to celebrate a diversity of holidays and traditions within a few months—Navaratri, Halloween, Deepavali, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year. I remember feeling frustrated when my dad would constantly remind me that I was privileged to experience “the best of both worlds.” Still, looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The fall season has always been my favorite, and as I write this, I realize why. It reminds me of such joyful times while growing up, hearing my parents’ stories, celebrating life’s offerings, and preparing for a fresh start in the new year. I feel connected to my parents’ childhood, my grandparents, and great-grandparents through their memories, and sometimes hearing different versions of the same story. It’s a way for me to experience and appreciate them in a different light.
At its core, for me, Deepavali means good food and phone calls from around the world at a volume that’s a bit too loud. It means wishing happiness, good health, and prosperity for my loved ones, myself, and the world.
While the holiday certainly has religious connotations, Deepavali’s overriding sentiment is the belief that what is perceived as harmful to humanity will be diminished by what is positive, loving, and caring. This will be true in any case, even in personal hardship. Deepavali tells us there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and the dawn of a new day. We will always flourish no matter what we’re going through; what is meant for us will come to us.
I believe I speak for all of us when I say that this last year has been traumatic, demanding, and exhausting. While atrocities continue to occur around the world, it can be challenging to focus on celebration. I often struggle with this: how can I sit here and celebrate anything when I’m aware of the inequalities around the world (especially for women)? What if I had been born in a different time, different place, to different people, rather than being where I am right now?
This is why I take times like Deepavali to reflect on my life, parents, family, and loved ones. It’s a time for gratitude, humility, and mental peace. Suppose we are lucky enough to have privilege (in any sense). In that case, we must do our best to support others and do our part in creating a more loving and nurturing world for generations to come.
The more that life goes on and this neverending “year” (2020 and 2021) continues, I can’t help but feel immensely blessed to be where I am today. I am grateful to have a roof over my head, a supportive family, and an incredibly loving community that makes me feel my best. Without any of them, I would be nothing. To ignore all I have, all those around me, and all I am—that would be the greatest evil.
What will you reflect on this year?
Read more about India’s most prominent holidays at Festivals in India: A Guide to the Nation’s Most Colorful Festivals.