The Hindu celebration of Diwali is “a fall festival of lights,” explains Seema Arora, president of the United India Association of New England. “We light up our houses, families get together, people buy new clothes, we play firecrackers, we eat sweets.”
“This is one of our most celebrated festivals,” she says.
Sunday evening, hundreds of people from across New England filled the auditorium to overflowing at the Oak Hill Middle School in Newton Centre for the association’s annual Diwali celebration. “We try to do this to maintain our culture and our tradition and pass it on to our next generations,” Arora says.
“When my father came from India in 1961, there were so few Indians here that they all knew each other,” Rakashi Chand, one of the emcees of the event, told the crowd. “As we are becoming a majority minority, it’s important to advocate. You know many schools have holidays. We need to make sure Diwali becomes a celebrated holiday as well.”
Diwali is one of many festivals around the world that bring light into the long, dark nights of fall and winter. The association’s event Sunday night began with Diwali puja (prayers) before an altar twinkling with colorful lights, followed by classical dances and contemporary Bollywood routines performed by groups ranging from very young children to experienced adults.
“We truly make it a united India,” Arora says. “There are so many languages an cultures in India. We put it all together here.”
What are the origins of Diwali? “There’s a story: There used to be a king, whose wife was kidnapped by a devil,” Arora explains. It’s told in the Hindu epic, “The Ramayana.” Rama, one of the avatars of the god Vishnu is born the son of a human king. Wishing to harm him, a demon king by the name of Ravana kidnaps Rama’s wife, Sita. But Rama follows with a monkey army.
“He finds her and he fights all the devils,” Arora says. “He wins and he brings her back. And the day he comes back, the whole town lights up with candles celebrating him. And since then it’s been celebrated.”
The term Diwali roughly translates as “rows of lighted lamps.”
“The moral of the story,” Arora says, “is the victory of good over evil.”
Greg Cook is co-founder of WBUR’s ARTery. Be his friend on Twitter @AestheticResear and on the Facebook. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.