Updated: Oct 16
Now that the pandemic has somewhat abated, Hindus around the world are enthusiastically celebrating Diwali. Diwali lasts five days and celebrates the triumph of good over evil-- light over darkness. The many origins of the holiday reflect this message, including Lord Krishna’s defeat of the demon king Narkasur, Lord Ram’s return to his kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile, and the birth of the Goddess Lakshmi. In addition to observing the rituals of Diwali, Hindus also celebrate their new year or nutan varash on the fourth* day of the festivities. This year, Project Stree members share their favorite Diwali traditions and what makes the holiday special for them.
1. The Rangoli
During the first day of Diwali, Dhanteras, families pray for fresh beginnings and financial success in the new year and partake in Lakshmi pujan. However, before Lakshmi pujan, they must prepare for the arrival of Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, to their homes. This involves frantically cleaning and decorating the house. The rangoli is one of the most common decorations used during Diwali. Observers of the holiday will use colored powders to create an elaborate design at the entrance of their homes, welcoming the Goddess Lakshmi inside. Growing up, I designed our home’s rangoli every year with my grandmother, so I always associate rangoli making with her. Similarly, Ria Soni, Project Stree’s co-founder, loves decorating her home with her family. “For me, my favorite part is definitely decorating our house, my mom goes all out with lights around the staircase, rangoli by the door, and divas in the kitchen and living room, etc.!”
2. Lighting Divas
The divo, or the oil lamp, is a quintessential symbol of Diwali. Lighting the divo dispels darkness from observers' lives, literally and figuratively. The divo represents a devotee’s journey from the dark to the light, or from ignorance to enlightenment. Throughout the five days of Diwali, Hindu households line their entry ways with divas and place additional divas around their homes. Maahika Mehta, one of Project Stree’s ambassadors, especially enjoys the experience of lighting divas every evening in her home.
3. Food. Lots and Lots of Delicious Food!
Diwali shares its affinity for food with holidays of many other major religions. Food preparations for Diwali can occur weeks in advance. Families will prepare exorbitant amounts of nasto, or dry (often fried) snacks, and mithai, or sweets. Maahika’s favorite Diwali nasto is chakri (a crispy, fried golden spiral made from rice and gram flour), while Jui Soni, Project Stree’s Design and Graphics Lead, is partial to farsi puri (a deep fried bread made from unleavened flour). Observers of Diwali make abundant offerings of food on nutan varash, or the new year, as a part of an annakut. Annakut literally means “a mountain of food”. This allegory refers to when Lord Krishna lifted Mount Govardhan to protect the residents of Gokul from torrential rains.
4. Gathering with Family
More than any other Hindu holiday, Diwali is a time for families to reconnect, be it while frying up nasto, creating rangolis, lighting divas, or chowing down on mountains of food. Prapti Shah, one of Project Stree’s ambassadors, emphasized that her favorite part of Diwali was that her “... entire family (around 60-75 people) gets together every year for Diwali and it is like a whole Thanksgiving feast, with food, sweets, card games, etc.” Ipsita Kadam, Project Stree's Team Administrator, enjoys celebrating Bhaubeej or Bhai Dooj, the last day of Diwali, where sisters and brothers visit one another. “We light diyas, make rangoli, I give gifts to my cousin-brothers, and we all enjoy Diwali snacks and spend quality time with each other!” For Jui, Diwali is associated with fond memories of family. “Having moved to the [United States] only about 4 years ago, Diwali still reminds me of my Kaka's (dad's younger brother) house in Gujarat. My family always traveled from Mumbai to Ahmedabad to celebrate together. My favorite part was the week-and-a-half of staying with cousins, all the nasto, lighting divas all around the house and getting dressed up in ethnic Indian clothes!”
If you celebrate Diwali, Project Stree would love to hear from you! Please share your favorite Diwali traditions in the comments. Happy Diwali and Sal Mubarak!
*This year, Annakut and nutan varash will be on the fifth day of Diwali due to an eclipse.