As an American-born Indian raised in small west-Texas towns, my ethnic identity has always been a bit of a question mark to me. My parents valued the importance of integrating my sister and I into American culture, while continuing to honor precious Indian traditions. One tradition that I look forward to every year is Diwali, or the Festival of Lights.
This year, Diwali takes place Nov. 7. It is the most celebrated festival of Hinduism, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil, light over dark. In Indian mythology, Diwali marks the homecoming of Lord Rama after a 14-year exile from his kingdom. To celebrate the king’s return home, families decorated their homes with lit candles, bright colors and sweet treats. Diwali, also known as Deepavali, means “row of lights” in Sanskrit, which is the ancient language of India.
Families celebrate this day by lighting several candles called “diyas” around their houses. Other popular traditions include making patterns with colorful powders and flowers around the entrances of homes, welcoming the gods to bring prosperity and good luck to the household. Diwali also marks the Hindu New Year and usually lasts five days. It is also custom to clean before this holiday to enter the new year with a fresh start.
To me, Diwali represents so much more than a yearly custom. As two of the only Indian students in my elementary and high school, my sister and I often felt timid about sharing our traditions with our classmates. My mother, a proud Punjabi Indian woman, would encourage us to overcome this fear and enlighten others about this event by dressing us up in traditional Indian outfits and sending sweet treats to our neighbors, friends and teachers. I initially would try to convince my mother that wearing Indian clothes would only highlight the stark differences between myself and my classmates. She simply smiled and paid no attention to my grievances. In years to come, though, I learned that, just like with everything else, she was right. To my surprise, my friends were eager to learn about this event and even wanted to participate in it.
Diwali has taught me to be proud of my Indian culture and appreciative of my uniqueness. This holiday embodies the inherit good in all of us and commemorates a day for joy, happiness and pride. Happy Diwali to everyone. Light a candle and celebrate the unity between us all.
~Simi Mathur, Texas A&M ’20