Diwali is a time of love and laughter, family and friends, fun and foods that delight – it is the Festival of Lights, marking the return of an exiled prince, returning home to be King, with a path of clay diyas, that provide him the path to his kingdom and family of devoted subjects. At our local temple in Troy, MI, we mark the holiday with a cultural and social function on the weekend either before or after the holy day itself, which falls on Nov. 11 this year. At my various workplaces, I have either gone out to a local Indian restaurant with friends, or joined with my colleagues in providing a potluck of Indian vegetarian food to others in the office – in the spirit of the holiness of the day, by staying true to the Hindu ideals of ahimsa and dana – the spirit of giving especially associated with Diwali. Some years, I have even helped organize an event showcasing not only the festival through a short video but also the art forms and traditional clothing of India – with performances that stretch the celebration beyond the essence of Diwali, featuring dances such as dandiya raas and bharata natyam, into those from the pop culture of Bollywood which can border on vulgarity. But in a city like my hometown with so many South Asians, what has given me a warm feeling inside that a holiday celebration inside is our mayor and city council’s continued proclamation of Diwali “as a holiday that signifies a special time of peace and serenity, with the hope of building bridges of understanding and tearing down barriers of intolerance,” along with “sincere wishes for a joyful and inspirational Diwali, Festival of Lights, celebration.”
As the only Hindu student in my elementary through early high school years, I was excited to celebrate Diwali as a teenager, when my family moved back to India. We hadn’t really done much to make it a big holiday event prior to this. I was an only child with two parents working hard to get through graduate school, and later post doctoral fellows, trying to make ends meet, and no extended family in the US. Diwali in India lived up to its expectations year over year, with delectable dishes and interesting customs from all over India, meeting the immense network of extended family on both sides of the family tree, and of course, the fabulous fashions – initiating me into a love of the handloom sari, a passion that has continued decades later. Diwali embodied the engagement of the diversity that is typical of India – the inherent pluralism of India’s civilizational history at its finest, with people of all faiths celebrating alongside the Hindus, Jains and Sikhs for whom it is a holy day. So when the city I call home, which believes “a strong community embraces diversity, promotes innovation, and encourages collaboration,” chooses to embrace my holiday of Diwali through an annual proclamation, it was a blending of the values that I hold dear, a mutual respect that helps to create a beloved community where all are welcome, paving the way for acceptance and understanding, so all who celebrate can feel at home. And of course, now more of my neighbors understand when Christmas lights at many homes in the area go up a few weeks early!