It is a yearly ritual when I immerse myself in fond reminiscences of Diwali and revisit those happy times. My earliest memory goes back to that day when I lit a phooljhari, with my mother holding my hand. I was terrified by the loud noises and never tried bursting a cracker. That fear remained in me throughout, and till date, I have not tried my hand at anything else besides those sparklers that are deemed safe.
Something that I cherish from my childhood, along with the fun, food, and festivity, is a poem that my brother wrote. The last couple of lines ran: “The sound of the crackers, the beating of the drums/ Are always heard on Diwali, which is the festival of lights.” Yes, his composition was amateurish, but I loved it. I can vouch now that I was perhaps his only and most loyal reader, for I can recite those lines by heart even 46 years later.
When President Barack Obama set the precedent!
During my three decades in the USA, I have lost count of the number of times that Diwali has come up in conversations with non-Asians. “Oh you celebrate Diwali!” is the reaction I commonly get whenever I mention that I am from India. By default, Indians and Diwali are thought to be inseparable from one another. This reaction is inevitable because of the secular fervor that the festival has.
In his very first year upon assuming office in 2009, President Barack Obama created history by being the first US President to celebrate Diwali personally. Also, the first ever diya was lit by him in the Oval Office in 2016 as he marked his final observation of the festival as President. Like many other Indians, it was indeed a heart-warming moment for me, and I was totally overwhelmed
Diwali encompasses so many religions in a kind embrace!
Although Diwali is a major festival of the Hindus, it is celebrated by other faiths as well.
To commemorate the release from prison and the return to Amritsar (in 1619) of their spiritual leader Guru Hargobind, the Sikhs observe Diwali. For Jains, Diwali marks the anniversary of the liberation of Mahavira, the last of the saints. The Buddhists, especially those of the Newar sect, celebrate Diwali as the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism.
Every year, the Hazrat Nizamuddin Dargah in Delhi and Haji Ali Dargah in Mumbai light up to mark the Diwali celebrations that engulf the nation. It is interesting to know that modern-day Diwali celebrations by Indian Muslims have their roots in Mughal history and can be traced even further back to the Delhi Sultans.
Could it be more beautiful that a single festival encompasses so many religions in a kind embrace?
The sparkle and brightness from festivals of light all around the globe
Celebrated at different times of the year, it is intriguing to discover other festivals of light that the world observes. Here are glimpses of a few of these.
The lantern festival in China presents a spectacular sight when beautiful lanterns, mainly in red, hang everywhere. The lanterns symbolize good fortune, and a belief exists that people let go of the past and ring in the good and the new.
Extensive fireworks and parades mark the Purim festival in Israel. It is a holiday to commemorate the saving of Jews from the Persian tyrant Haman who had plotted to kill all the people in the kingdom.
Akin to Dussehra is Las Fellas, a fun festival from Spain’s amazing culture. Made of wood and cardboard, dolls known as ninots are set on fire to symbolize the end of evil.
The festival of lights in Lyon, France is celebrated in early December and lasts for four days. In gratitude to Mary, mother of Jesus, candles adorn the windows, and light shows are held in public and historic buildings. It is believed that the blessings of the Virgin Mother saved the city when it was struck by a plague in 1643.
Now, can we spread the light from our hearts?
Light and darkness are the two phases of our cosmic existence. Beyond this scientific reality, we assign a metaphorical value to these basic natural phenomena. Humanity has equated light with the spiritual and the divine. It embodies truth, happiness, peace, illumination, and intelligence and stands as a paradigm of all noble values.
The festivals of light that are a part of variegated cultures have a common baseline. From the various shades and hues a universal truth emerges. The message that rings all around is that it is the goodness of the human spirit that prevails over everything and makes our lives worthy and meaningful.
As India celebrates the festival of lights, let us all light a diya in our hearts. May we dispel the darkness by setting aside all differences and spreading love and kindness to make this planet an abode of peace and happiness!
Wishing a very safe and happy Diwali to all!
(This article was featured in Women’s Web )