Diwali, the festival of lights, is an Indian holiday that honors wealth and fortune.
Diwali is typically celebrated on one day, especially for Indians like me who are living in America. But beyond the Diwali parties, the festivity actually lasts for five days, each with its own meaning and acts of celebration.
The first day of Diwali, Dhanteras, worships all the sources of wealth a person currently has. “Dhan” also translates to wealth. This day is also known for making significant purchases, as it is believed that spending money on this day will bring even greater fortune in the future. Even small purchases are encouraged for symbolic reasons. You can find people setting up diyas outside their houses or putting up lights. The next day is Naraka Chaturdashi, the day we celebrate the victory of good over evil. In Hinduism, this is the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasur. The second day of celebration is incredibly religious thus most Hindus wake up early to start prayers in the morning.
The third day is Diwali which celebrates the Goddess of Wealth, Lakshmi. Diwali is typically a fun day filled with friends and family, as well as fireworks, sparklers, delicious food and mithai (sweets.) Lighting diyas and making rangoli is a must. (Bonus points if an uncle you just met lets you set off the big fireworks in the middle of the street.)
The following two days are Annakut (Nutan Varsh) and Bahi Beej. Annakut brings in the Hindu new year by making offerings to Lord Krishna. Normally, my family would go to our town’s temple for prayers but amid rising Covid-19 cases across the U.S., we opted to stay home. Bahi Beej is the last day and it is known as a sharing of wealth between family members. The sisters of the family pray for money and happiness for their brothers and the brothers give their sisters gift or money in return. Just as a note, brother and sister are used lightly in this context. Bahi Beej applies to cousins as well.
Diwali has always been one of my favorite holidays. Being with family, dressing up in chaniya cholis, and eating my weight in Indian buffet-style food are trademarks of the holiday for me. As I live in America, the festivities are normally packed into the weekend closest to Diwali each year. Typically, those days consist of visits from family members, huge banquet hall gatherings with family friends and praying with my grandparents. Even the parts of the holiday that may sometimes be a hassle, like wearing heavy outfits until 2 a.m. or waiting to eat dinner at a party even though it’s already 10 p.m. are moments I cherish, especially this year.
With Covid-19, it’s obvious that Diwali looked a little different this year. Our celebration was much smaller and only with my own family members for precaution. Even though I miss celebrating the way I normally do, this year was still special and relaxing, which gave me more time to appreciate all the little things I love about Diwali. I hope that for the upcoming holidays, both American and Indian, we can practice social distancing, be safe and see the beauty in the meaning of the holiday beyond big celebrations.