Diwali, the biggest festival of the year for the Indian community

Diwali, the biggest festival

Happy Diwali! As millions of Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jains around the world celebrate this five-day festival of lights, we reflect on the true meaning of Diwali. Diwali is a time to celebrate new beginnings, the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. It is the biggest festival of the year for the Indian community, and while the Indian diaspora celebrate the holiday with pomp and circumstance in their local communities, by and large, Diwali is not a public holiday and goes unobserved in mainstream cultures. So how can we as a diaspora live into the full meaning of Diwali?

Diwali is not a public holiday in the United States, Canada, UK, or Australia, where large populations of the Indian diaspora live. So, unless you—and all your friends and family—have the ability to take the day off, cele-brations typically take place over the weekend. The focus tends to be on the exuberance, the clothes, jewelry, festivities and feasts—which are important— but less on the sharing of food, sweets, and well wishes with your neighbors and strangers and giving back to those less fortunate. We view these aspects of Diwali are as important and, perhaps, even more meaningful.

While Diwali’s “party” aspects are becoming better known in major cities where large numbers of influential diaspora live, the festival and its signifi-cance is still not well understood.

For too long, the diaspora has put up with the blank stares from teachers, colleagues and employers, made do with celebrating the holiday over the weekend, and been content to let Diwali be a local community or family event. For those unable to take a personal day off, this has meant a day spent in the school or at work, rather than time spent with the family en-joying the traditions of Diwali.

But that is changing. More and more, the diaspora is recognizing they have a responsibility to educate the mainstream, and the task is getting easier with many diaspora in positions of influence and leadership bringing visibility to our culture and how they celebrate the festival. For example, five members of Congress now openly celebrate Diwali, as Priya Krishna explains in her article in The New York Times, but we still have a way to go.

The good news is that many Indian leaders have actively advocated for Diwali, especially in lobbying for it to be a public school holiday. Although most of these petitions have not worked, last year, a Bucks County school district in Pennsylvania approved a petition to make Diwali a day off for students and staff.

Ultimately, the true meaning of Diwali is about learning and service, and the triumph of goodness. Which is why, as we celebrate with the usual sweets, jewelry, fashion, and food, we also remember that many children in the world go hungry. So we are pleased to feature Vandana Tilak, CEO of Akshaya Patra Foundation USA, who shares how this organization is working to eliminate classroom hunger, countering malnutrition and sup-porting the right to education for socio-economically disadvantaged children.