Growing up in a kind of hybrid cultural environment, the celebration of Hindu holidays in our home was spearheaded by my mom. She was raised Hindu and those traditions were very much a part of her life. But she married my father, whose family was Hindu, but later converted to Christianity. It should be noted my father was very much a “C of E” Christian. “C of E” stands for Church of England, and it seems if you’re a member of that particular branch of Christianity, you don’t really go to church all that much. Maybe weddings, funerals, a baptism or two, and the occasional Christmas service, but that’s pretty much it — or so it was in our household.
And when we finally immigrated to the U.S. in 1966, the Indian cultural side really got marginalized. Diwali was celebrated sporadically (and that went with the other major Hindu holidays as well). However, about 15 years ago, my mom started to make those holidays important again, and would often have a small Puja at her home before celebrating a holiday like Diwali.
I’m not a religious person, so these are more cultural events for me. There’s certainly a religious component to Diwali, but it’s not something that I take seriously. For me, it’s just a very nice ceremony that’s a lot like Thanksgiving dinner, Christmas, or New Year’s that just reinforces family bonds, giving thanks for the thing we have, and eating yummy food!
And like Halloween, Diwali is a lot about bringing light into a season where it gets dark earlier. Indeed, when I googled “Diwali” to read about the origin of the holiday what the word means, I found that it derives from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” that translates to “line of lights.” Later, as Sanskrit became the “dead language” in India (much like Latin and ancient Greek are dead languages in Europe and parts of the Americas), the word “Deepavali” morphed into “Diwali” and was/is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains. So, you can imagine that with a billion people living in India, and a majority of them being members of the three religious traditions above, Diwali is a big deal. And when you factor in all the Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains living outside of India, it becomes an even bigger deal.
There’s one thing that our family does wear in terms of signifying our Indian/Hindu roots, and that’s an “Om.” J and Maya have them, too! Maya’s is the small silver one (Left), J’s is the middle one, and mine is the one on the right. I actually got mine from my aunt when I went to Guyana in 1988. I was going to go to a jeweler in Georgetown to have one made before coming back to the U.S. When my aunt learned of my plans, she first berated me for being “stchupid” (i.e., stupid) for wasting my money on a Om. When I said, “Well, I wanted something that was made from Guyana gold,” She continued to shake her head like I was an idiot who wanted something that wasn’t important (Note: There’s this odd cruel streak that runs on my mom’s side of the family where words like “stchupid” and a general superior demeanor are used to control the kids). Then she left the room, and later returned with the Om you see on the right. She just gave it to me, and said something like “Yuh see? Yuh got Guyana gold now,” and then made a kind of sucking sounds with her teeth (i.e., “Suck yuh teeth”). So, it’s a bittersweet memento of my trip to Guyana, but I wear it almost everyday.
So, even though most of my readers aren’t Indian, I wish you all a Happy Diwali! If you feel like it, light a candle and eat something sweet.