The white girl’s guide to Diwali


 दिवाली मुबारक 2012!

(Happy Diwali 2012!)

Technically all of Diwali started on Sunday and will continue through until Thursday (5 days), but today is the biggest celebration and the time that we try to observe in our house.  Prior to joining my life with Sammit’s I had never heard of Diwali and each year I learn a little more about it.  While someday I hope to present a scholarly look at the history and meaning behind this celebration, right now I’ll give you “The white girl’s guide to Diwali.”

I, the white girl, or rather white woman but that doesn’t flow in a title as well, have taken two years of Hindi at the collegiate level and two courses on Hinduism and Asian Religions.  I also married an Indian family several years ago (because you don’t marry into one, you marry the whole family).  So I’m an expert, right?  Alas, no.  India is a beautiful country that has an amazingly vast and complex history which I have not even begun to fully comprehend. Also, the only two phrases from my Hindi classes that stuck are:

  1. “अन्न आर्बर में हम खाना का चुके है” which is pronounced “Ann Arbor mae hum khana ka chukae hae” and translates to English as “We have to eat food in Ann Arbor” and translates into in-law as “No, I’m not hungry, please don’t feed me any….thank you so much this looks delicious.”
  2. Sentences that indicate I like things, particularly I like words that I remember in hindi, such as मुझे खाना पसंद है (Mujae khana pasand hae = I like to eat/I like food) or मुझे रोटी पसंद है (Mujae roti pasand hae = I like bread) or मुझे संतरे पसंद है (Mujae santrae pasand hae = I like oranges).  We learned a lot of food vocabulary.

I cannot hold a conversation in Hindi and I do not understand most Bollywood movies.  I’m convinced, to this day, that I earned an A for effort and because they did not want to discourage the only non-Indian person in the class.  I have been to India, twice, once for academics and the most recent to meet family and have a blessing for my future nuptials.  India is hot and smelly and beautiful, but I digress.

Here is my guide to Diwali:

  1. It’s kind of a big deal; it marks the Indian new year and comes complete with family, food, and fireworks.
  2. It is 3-5 days long, though I’ve only ever celebrated the 3rd day.
  3. It runs on the lunar calendar so while it typically happens in October or November each year it does not happen the same time every year.
    1. Next year Diwali will happen on November 3rd and in 2014 it will happen on October 23rd.
  4. Light, literal and figurative, is a reoccurring theme.
    1. In some places (Because remember, India is not homogeneous. It is home to many religions and even more subcultures and languages so holidays and social milestones are celebrated differently) it represents light overcoming darkness (read: good overcoming evil) and a reminder that light exists in each of us.
    2. All candles, lamps, and lights in the house are turned on – let there be no corner left dark.
    3. Pay particular attention to lighting and making your entryway festive (read: colorful) and welcoming.
  5. This new year celebration is the time to make sure your things, like your house or business, are in order.  This involves some serious deep cleaning leading up to the 3rd day celebrations; get all that dirt and clutter out  and renew your life!
  6. Prayers happen, Indian sweets are exchanged, and there is generous joyousness and love all around with lots of fireworks.
  7. I usually leave my in-laws’ house with a tilak (a smoosh of red powder/paste on my forehead), a monetary gift, and a smile.

I hope you’ve learned a little bit about Diwali and I hope to be able to tell you more about it next year.  Until then, have a happy and prosperous new year!

2 responses »

  1. “An A for effort”… bahaha.

    Also, I find it very cool that the days move around each day. although that very much decreases the likelihood that I would ever remember it…

  2. Every year in early October I google it because I won’t ever remember either. In fact, I do that for most Indian holidays. The only celebration I remember is Gandhi’s birthday because it is always the same day we got married.

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