SoCal Diwali 2013: Celebrations and events for the South Asian ‘Festival of Lights’

South Asians in Southern California are gearing up for Diwali, a five-day festival traditionally celebrated during the month of November. Known as one of the most important Hindu holidays, the ‘festival of lights’ celebrates the victory of good over evil and welcomes the start of a new year.
To prepare, many local temples, Hindu organizations and Sikh gurdwaras are organizing a series of events to celebrate Diwali, which falls on Nov. 3 this year.

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Familiar traditions, celebrated across cultures 

Rows of clay oil lamps and rangolis will set an electrifying scene during Diwali. In Southern California, the celebration is marked by large processions and colorful arrangements of Indian desserts stacked by the dozens.

Varun Soni is one of the first Hindus to have been sworn in as the dean of religious life at the University of Southern California. He says Diwali is the celebration of “the victory of good over evil and the truth over falsehood.” In the metaphorical sense, the lighting of the diya represents the internal flame of divinity, he explained.

“On Diwali, traditionally Hindus will light candles around the house, around the temple. It’s really considered the ‘Festival of Lights’ for that reason,” Soni told KPCC. “Diwali is a time to rekindle that divine light and to think of each individual as a candle that can light other candles.”

Diwali—also known as Deepavali—has become an important holiday encompassing many of the traditions involved with gift giving, feasting and decorating the home with an array of oil lamps, or diyas. Diwali has become the equivalent of a “Hindu-American Christmas,” said Soni. In many ways, it has become a pan-Indian holiday for Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains and Hindus. “It’s that one time of year when families get together, sometimes they’ll exchange presents, light lamps, and celebrate together,” he said.

Twenty year-old Shivani Patel has been part of the religious Hindu Matiya Patidar Samaj organization of Southern California since she was a young child. Patel associates Diwali is the time of year when she can celebrate with family and friends and welcome the New Year by wearing colorful saris and eating delicious mithai, or Indian sweets. “For my family and I, it is a time where we can celebrate with family and friends, make Indian sweets and snacks, dress in new clothes and celebrate with loved ones,” she said.

Many Hindus receive envelopes filled with money as a blessing, usually the day after Diwali, in a tradition similar to Chinese New Year. Patel’s parents often bless her and her sister with the envelope for the beginning of the new year.

Gurcharan Bans, one of the founding members of the Sikh Gurdwara of Los Angeles, told KPCC his gurdwara will host a special Diwali celebration featuring a series of kirtans followed by a diya lighting ceremony. He said Diwali is celebrated by both Sikhs and Hindus, and is open to all faiths. “Friends, families, Sikh and Hindu families or anybody can come to this celebration. This is the greatness about the Sikh community—there’s no binding or restraining on nobody. Any person with any faith can come for Diwali or the gurdwara,” said Bans.

During Diwali, intricate patterns of lotus flowers and Hindu deities are created by the use of colored rice, in an artform known as rangoli. The colored rice is then laid out on the ground, creating an elaborate design made to honor and pay respect to deities.

SoCal’s largest Diwali celebrations in Artesia, Chino Hills

One of the busiest street festivals will be co-hosted by the city of Artesia this year, and is expected to close down Pioneer Boulevard from 183rd Street to 188th Streets. 

“The main reason for the Diwali festival is to bring the Indian community and non-Indian community to the City of Artesia, and that they might taste our foods and enjoy the wares and products..and that they will continue to come back to the city of Artesia,” said Artesia Mayor Sally Flowers. The outdoor festival will help benefit the city of Artesia economically, in particular merchants in the downtown corridor area, Flowers said.

In San Bernardino County, a Diwali celebration is planned at one of the area’s largest and most ornate temples. Chino Hills’ BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir will also host its first Diwali celebration, open to all.

“Diwali celebrations are open to the public. They are in that sense, open to anyone of any faith to come by. This is the first time that Diwali will be celebrated inside the temple in Chino Hills – the first for the congregation,” says BAPS volunteer Ronak Patel. For many, it will be their first chance to marvel at the temple’s architecture and hand-carved Burmese Teak wood decor with ceilings as high as the sky. The temple officially opened its doors in 2012. But over the years, the temple has been at the center of controversy, as some in the area opposed its construction. The day after Diwali marks the start of the new year for Hindus, says Patel. This year, BAPS is expecting over 1,500 attendees during the free celebration, which will feature vegetarian food offerings, prayers and a diya ceremony.

“Diwali is a time to celebrate the new year and celebrate all of the good that god has given us throughout the year and ask him to spiritually continue to guide us on our day to day lives,” said Patel.

Source: 89.3 KPCC