Indian BYU-Hawaii students said they celebrate the Hindu festival Diwali even though they’re Christian out of respect for their culture. They said celebrating it on Oct. 19 wasn’t the same without their family’s food, decorations, and lights.
The Hindu festival of lights is called Diwali, in Hindi, or Deepavali in Tamil according to Irene Purushottam, a freshman studying elementary education from India. She said, “It celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. Diwali symbolizes the beginning of the new year in India.”
Shanmugsundaram Arumugam, a freshman studying business management from India, said he misses Diwali back home where there were lights everywhere and tons of decorations. One popular decoration, he said, was the rangoli, an artwork on floors using colored powders.
Purushottam said Diwali back home was different because “people [back home] look like walking Christmas trees, with lots of bling and colors.”
Diwali is the biggest festival in India and is celebrated there for two weeks, said Purushottam, but it’s also celebrated in countries such as Nepal, Malaysia, the United States, and more.
Purushottam said during the festival, Hindus will go to temples and perform puja, or prayers to the different Hindu gods. She said because she grew up Christian, she didn’t perform these rituals but people of all religions still came together.
Arumugam said it doesn’t matter what religion one is. “I still have to follow my culture and respect it, and the PCC especially taught me this. The gospel is spread all over the world and it brings people together in love.” He added everyone has their own different cultures.
He said there’s a saying in his language that translates to “wherever you go in the world, don’t forget where you’re from.” He added, “This is applicable to everyone, and I am grateful for how I grew up.”
Guinevere Abello, a junior biomedical major from California, said her mom was Fijian Indian and grew up Hindu. She said because her family was Christian, they would dress up traditionally for church on Diwali. “We’d wear the kurta, which is a more modern Indian blouse that’s shorter than the traditional one, and an Indian skirt.”
Abello said she learned to love the Indian culture. “I did Indian dance for seven years, and even though the dances are a kind of worship I wasn’t worshipping [the Hindu god] Shiva. It was more about being aware and learning about culture.”
Purushottam’s husband Rajkumar Tamang, a freshman studying information systems from Nepal, said a tradition in Nepal is to go caroling during Diwali. He said, “We would sing traditional songs and get money and sweets. I loved it.”
Purushottam said she’s celebrated Diwali with a Christmas tree for the past four years – she’d put the Christmas tree up in September and have a different color theme for it each year that would go along with her colorful decorations.
Diwali is a time when everyone in India buys sweets, new clothes, and takes a whole two weeks off from work, Purushottam said. “Except government workers. They sometimes only get a few days off for it.”
After rolling her eyes and pausing, Abello said her favorite part about Diwali was “the sweets and food.” She gave examples of her favorites: jaleebi, ras malai, and gulab juman.
She said, “The jaleebi is a sweet that’s crispy on the inside. It golden-colored, covered in maple, and in small, thin spirals. The rasmali is a kind of cheese that is soft and drenched in milk. The gulab juman is another popular one that is kind of like an Indian donut. Its deep fried and covered in a sweet syrup.”
During Diwali, Purushottam said she would bring plates of sweets to her neighbors. She added that in their tradition, it is rude to return something like a plate or bowl without filling it first, so neighbors would return bowls of sweets back.
A tradition that Tamang said he enjoyed was when they would put red powdered pieces of rice, called tika, on their forehead as a blessing. “After all the greetings, it becomes very big on your forehead.”
Due to the complaints from the public and fear of toxic smog in Delhi, the Supreme Court banned the sale of fireworks from Oct. 17 to Nov. 1, according to BBC news.
“Diwali sounds like a war zone,” said Purushottam. “You wouldn’t know the difference between a bomb and a firework. The fireworks don’t stop all night during the festival.”
Schools and other sites were closed down due to a toxic smog covering the city of Delhi because of thousands of firecrackers that were set off in celebration of Diwali, according to the Guardian.
Purushottam said, “Both of my brother-in-law’s lungs collapsed last year [because of the air], and he barely made it out of the hospital.” She said the smog gets so bad you can’t see the buildings anymore.
She said she’s seen many instances of children who set off fireworks and end up burning themselves and harming or destroying personal property.
People can celebrate without fireworks, she said. Individuals in India might spend an estimate of $80-100 for fireworks and even up to $500 for those who can afford it.
She said the money can be used for better reasons such as food and clothes, which would also represent good over evil better.
She added, “Go read the scriptures and where did they celebrate with fireworks then? Did they also celebrate with death?”
When asked if his family used fireworks, Arumugam said “Yes, obviously.” However, he agreed that the ban is good to stop pollution and stop wasting money.