Diwali – new year’s celebration – mixes old, new traditions

545197b8e0f15.imageEvery religion has at least one central holiday that is celebrated by most followers. For Hindus and Sikhs, that day is Diwali — the Festival of Lights.

And while the actual date of Diwali — Oct. 23 — was almost a week earlier, Indians in Atlantic County gathered Wednesday to celebrate the event with a rockstar sendoff.

The Vaikunth Hindu Jain Temple in Pomona, Galloway Township, held a final Diwali dinner, followed by live music performances.

Two pop-singing contestants from shows that are the Indian version of “American Idol” — “Indian Idol” and “Fame Gurukul” — were part of the lineup.

The concert aspect of Diwali is a modern twist, adopted after coming to the U.S., since traditional practices such as lighting firecrackers are not allowed.

The celebration of Diwali originated thousands of years ago based on a Hindu myth, and is still the most celebrated festival of Hindus and Sikhs around the world.

Nancy Khatiwala, of Galloway, attended the dinner and music festivities Wednesday night and said that although some of the activities are the same, she likes celebrating Diwali the traditional way, at home — not just for herself but as a way to pass on the celebration to the younger generation.

During Diwali, or Deepavali, families traditionally celebrate together and wish each other a new year of wealth and success.

Well-wishers on that day often greet each other with the phrase “Saal Mubarak,” which is the equivalent of “Happy New Year.”

Rani Patel, 15, of Galloway, said she has never celebrated in India but enjoys ringing in the new year with her family.

She was excited at the start of the concert because it was an opportunity to hang out with her friends. The music is alright, she said, but “it’s mostly for my mom.”

The group in Galloway weren’t the only ones celebrating the holiday this past week and remembering old traditions.

Back in India, most families go door to door to greet friends, family and neighbors and wish them the best of luck in the new year, said Yogesh Thakur, of Vineland.

“The day started at 6 a.m. and would end at 10 or 11 at night,” he said.

At each home, the family gets a snack and something to drink, which makes for a full belly by the end of the day.

But, Thakur said, the difference is that in India everyone prefers to walk from house to house and lane to lane, rather than driving by car. So by the end of the day, all that food is digested.

The Asian Indians in Cumberland County have re-created the same tradition, but with a modern touch.

Three years ago, Bhavna Patel, of Vineland, suggested creating an itinerary by which all the participating families would go house to house to enjoy a snack and drink.

She developed the idea as part of Sanksaar, the Hindu youth group she heads.

“Kids love it because they get the chance to decorate with their parents and put rangoli (colored powder designs) in front of the house,” Patel said.

And the children love the endless variety of foods. Patel said her 16-year-old son compares it to Halloween.

“He calls it the Hindu trick-or-treating,” Patel said.

“There is a lot of variety of food. Some people had Mexican food, like tortillas or tacos,” Thakur said. “It’s good. It is some kind of change. Otherwise the kids will get bored.”

The families hope to encourage their children to keep the tradition alive, and constantly serving only Indian food may have the opposite effect, he said.

The families then set out in a caravan of vehicles and visit each house for 15 minutes.

“Whichever neighborhood we go to, people will notice us. They can tell something is going on,” Thakur said.

And more of his neighbors are aware of the traditions in Indian culture, even recognizing the celebration itself, he said.

“It’s basically our Christmas,” Thakur said.

But economic hard times hit the community, and not as many families participated this year.

“Last year we had more than 34 families. We were tired of eating,” Thakur said. This year about half that number participated.

Thakur said many of the small business owners had a bad year, financially, and had to tend to their businesses rather than take the day off.

Source: pressofatlanticcity.com