It took me by surprise. The outpouring of light into the dark streets of India and the eruption of hospitality, sweets, gifts and good will that came upon me during Diwali. It was a bittersweet week for me because my husband and I had been apart for over 2 months and he was to arrive a few days after Diwali so I didn’t think I would get too into the festivities but I was wrong. Two key things happened. The lights went up and we (the fellows based in Mumbai) were invited home.
First let’s get clear – what is Diwali – I always knew it as the festival of lights – which it is but it is also so much more (thanks to Wikipedia for helping me with the following details). The name “Diwali” or “Divali” comes from a Sanskrit work which means “row of lamps”. Diwali involves the lighting of small clay lamps to signify the triumph of good over evil. Diwali is actually a 5 day festival, the day which seems to be most significant is the third day when the Lakshmi Puja is performed (and the day when my office was closed).
In preparation for the 3rd day you light lamps, clean your home and buy new clothes all in the name of welcoming the Lakshmi into your home. I make sure to Skype with my sister Lakshmi on that key day and thus did indeed welcome her into my home. Firecrackers are burst because it is believed that it drives away evil spirits. Diwali in India is hands down the loudest holiday I have every experienced with firecrackers (or “cracker” as they are called here) being blasted day and night for about 2 weeks.
To say that the city lights up for Diwali would be the understatement of the year – the city glows for Diwali. I always knew about the festival of lights – but never fully appreciated it until experiencing it in India! Starting about a week before the first day of Diwali the lights start going up, first in the markets and at the jewelry stores, than at homes, in communities, on balconies, in doorways, in train stations – everywhere! And the city just sparkles as do the people – in their new clothes and smiles for strangers.
The best comparison I can make is to Christmas time in America – but that comparison somehow doesn’t do justice to the beauty of Diwali in India.
I was blessed to be invited home to Sriya’s house, one of our fellow Fellows for Diwali. Her Family opened their arms to all of us AIF fellows here in Mumbai. They had the girls over a few days before to do mendi on our hands and feet and for the day of Lakshmi they had us over for music, laughter, food and “crackers.” I was also invited to my friend Chandi’s home as well and managed to squeeze in two parties in one night. I also did it all in sari. Diwali filled me with a sense of belonging and of joy – a sense that while celebrations look different depending on which part of the world you’re in the joy of coming together with friends and family and filling a home with laughter knows no cultural boundaries.