USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘diwali’
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Bandi Chhor Divas- A Sikh Holiday

Informant is a USC student from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Her family practices Sikhism, one of the major religions of India that is practiced primarily in the Punjab region in the Northwestern part of the continent. This holiday is one of the main reasons that the Sikhs celebrate the larger Indian celebration of Diwali.

What’s the story behind the holiday?

“This is the reason why Sikhs celebrate Diwali. So basically, a long time ago, the Muslims put 52 Hindu princes, into a prison because they would not convert to Islam. So, Guru Har Gobind, 6th of the 10 major Sikh gurus, went to the Muslim emperor and asked him to release the princes from captivity. The emperor agreed on the condition that only those who could hold onto the guru’s clothing as he walked out would be set free. The guru, being very wise, attached 52 threads to his clothing so that each of the princes could hold on and be set free. The holiday was established as part of the Diwali tradition to celebrate the freeing of the princes.”

How is this holiday celebrated?

“It’s a festival of lights just like Diwali. The temples are all lit up and people leave candles all over their houses, as a way to direct the princes back home. People at home will pray and set up shimmering lights, and it’s an important time for prayer and being with family. At larger festivals, people will shoot fireworks and hang lights everywhere.”

 

Collector’s Comments:

I had known before that Diwali was a very large holiday in India, but I did not realize that the different religious groups had different reasons for celebrating the same holiday. This story is interesting because it involves multiple religions of the Indian continent, showing that these religions are aware of the other belief systems around them, and that the associations are political as well as spiritual.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Diwali Traditions

Informant: Sid is a sophomore university student from a hindu background

Piece:

My family isn’t like orthodox hindu, so on Diwali every year instead of lighting candles to light up the entire house we just light one candle to be kept lit throughout the day in each room and then we use the lights like normal. I used to think it was sorta scrubby, so one year I convinced my parents to go all out so like we just had a ton of candles and it was a pain cause it smelled and was super dark and I couldn’t see anything and just felt weird.

Collector’s thoughts:

This piece shows how all traditions, including religious ones, feature what Dundes called “multiplicity and variation”. To the informant, the more “traditional” version of celebrating diwali was also the less authentic way. Rather, the combined use of candles and electric lights was a better way at capturing the importance of the day to the informant.

 

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Gujarati Proverb Common Around Diwali

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

I’m from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script: मिच्छामि दुक्कडम्

Transliteration: micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ

Translation: “May all the evil that has been done be fruitless” or “If I have offended you in way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word, or deed, then I seek your forgiveness”.

Piece Background Information:

One specific thing that’s very interesting- whenever we meet someone on our new year’s day, we say micchāmi dukkaḍaṃ”. It basically means, “forgive me for anything I’ve done wrong over the past year and I want to start over on a clean slate with you”. Our new year, I think, comes right after Diwali- this big festival of lights. So it (the new year) is the day after that because the whole thing about Diwali is that it’s the conquering of good over evil, based on an ancient story.

So the ancient story is about this lord, he was called Lord Rama. He was a king who was in exile and his wife Sita was taken away by this evil king named Ravanna. So he crossed what is now called the region, the sea crossing between India, the south tip of India, and the current Sri Lanka to go and get his wife back. And they had like a fourteen day war where they basically, the two sides were fighting, and it ended with Rama putting an arrow through Ravana’s chest to kill him. The festival of lights celebrates his return after exile, back to the capital city.

Basically, we are asking for forgiveness from the other person and we want to start the new year off with a clean slate.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day, in Ronald Tutor Campus Center on USC’s campus in Los Angeles.

Thoughts on Piece: 

Through setting off fireworks, lanterns, and the like during Diwali, partakers in this tradition are recalling the celebrations that were believed to have taken place upon Rama and Sita’s return to their kingdom in northern India, after having been exiled and defeating King Ravanna. In this sense, Diwali can be seen as homeopathic magic as it is performed in order to bring about new beginnings/ wipe the slate clean through recalling the similar instance in which the slate was wiped clean for the once exiled Lord Rama. It also follows the Earth cycle as the celebration’s dates are dependent upon the Hindu lunar calendar.

For more information on Diwali, see Sims, Alexandra. “What is Diwali? When is the festival of lights?” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 09 Nov. 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2017. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/diwali-what-is-the-festival-of-lights-and-when-is-it-celebrated-a6720796.html>.

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Diwali and the Ramayan

Pallavi, my friend and suitemate, is a freshman international student at USC studying Business and Accounting. She is from an Indian middle class family in New Delhi, with working parents who have separated. Although she is technically Punjabi, she does not speak that language and instead speaks Hindi. Her family is also Hindu but they are not strict practitioners of the religion, although they still follow and perform and take part in major festivals

Here, she discusses the traditions she observes around the festival of Diwali (a festival of lights), which she identifies as somewhat of a Christmas equivalent in her culture that takes place around early November (this year it will be November 3, 2013). However, she particularly emphasizes and relates the mythological background of the festival, a story that is firmly rooted in the Hindu epic of the Ramayana, or the “Ramayan” as she says (the added “-a” anglicizing the title).

 

The Ramayan:

“Diwali, the story behind it…it comes from a mythological story which is that Lord Ram came back from 13 years of vanwas [in Sanskrit, van means “forest,” and was means “to live,” so “living in the forest”], from exile, and he was exiled to the forest, basically. When he comes back from exile, that’s the day that Diwali happens. Because he was actually the heir to the throne. There were four brothers, but they were all brothers from different mothers, and the king was the same. And Ram was the eldest son, so he automatically got the throne, or he was supposed to get the throne, but one of the wives of the king – her name was Kaikeyi – so what Kaikeyi did… The king had three wives and four sons, Ram was the son of the eldest wife, or the first wife, and he was the eldest son also automatically. And then he had two more wives, and I think the middle wife was Kaikeyi. And she was not a bad person, but there was this whole drama going on with her handmaid or lady in waiting. So that woman was very shrewd and she wanted Kaikeyi to be the top wife. So she kind of poisoned Kaikeyi’s mind, and Kaikeyi was relatively gullible so she was swayed, and she convinced the king to send Ram to the forest for vanwas. And it was 13 years of vanwas. And he said okay. So Ram was “summoned” to the forest, but because Ram was the most loved by all his brothers, the second brother, the second eldest, who was Lakshman, was like “because my bhaiyabhaiya is brother, and bhaiya is usually elder brother – so, because my bhaiya is going to the forest, I cannot let him go alone, so I’m going to go with him.” So even though he was married, he left his wife back, and he went with Ram and his wife (Ram’s wife Sita). So all three of them went to the forest, even though Lakshman was not exactly told to go to the forest, he still went. And so Kaikeyi’s son got the throne; but because he also loved Ram and he was very upset with his mother for staging all this, he never actually sat on the throne, in fact, before Ram left, he asked for Ram’s sandals and he always kept his sandals on the throne instead. And even though he was, in effect, he used to help his father – because his father sort of retired after that – so he would still run the kingdom but he never sat on the throne because he’s like “I’m just guarding it for my brother, when he comes back.” ”

 

Celebration of Diwali:

“And when Ram actually came back, that is when Diwali is celebrated, because it’s like light coming back, that’s why it’s the festival of lights. There are a lot of crackers [firecrackers] and it’s difficult to breathe nowadays. Lot of smoke. The beautiful part is there’s all these really beautiful diyas – lamps, like terra cotta pots, in which you put some oil and a wick that gets lit [they look almost like clay petals that hold oil and are adorned with designs] – there are like really pretty ones. In elementary school, we’d have diya decoration competitions and stuff. Different designs. I like this part more. Even though when you’re kids, you like the crackers and stuff more, as you grow older… this [the diyas] part is very– Because people’s houses look beautiful…. They make rangolis in front of their house because it’s a positive…

[Showing me images of rangoli via Google Images] They’re made up of…this one seems petals…but rangoli usually is made up of colors, ground up colors, you take color and you sprinkle it [into designs]. It goes right in front of your main door. And everyone has that. These are getting more modern so people have, like, the “tattoo” kind of things, so they’ll get a whole rangoli thing but they’ll “tattoo” it so if people walk over it, it doesn’t spoil, but that’s [pointing to a an image of one made with the colored powder] the traditional thing. Lakshmi is worshipped also. Lakshmi is the goddess of money…fortune, money…and that [pointing out another image of rangoli featuring a goddess figure] is a rangoli of her. She’s related to amavasya – the new moon. The new moon day in October – Diwali is based off the new moon, that’s why it’s not a fixed date. During the new moon, Lakshmi’s destroyer form is active. And you worship her.

It’s basically like purification of sorts, because Lakshmi is the goddess of money and fortune, but on this particular day you worship to her destroyer form. So all the gods…they all can take ‘forms,’ so like, for example, Lord Shiva, he’s “the Destroyer,” but he has many roles. He’s the Destroyer, but when Maa Kali, who’s considered to be the most ruthless, or the most angry goddess of all, when she gets mad or when she’s angered, Lord Shiva, he goes under her – this is also, like, a myth, or an understanding – whenever she gets mad, she, like, goes crazy and then Lord Shiva goes under her and lays down underneath her while she’s standing or whatever, getting angry or whatever. And he takes all of her negative energy; otherwise, if she goes very crazy, she’ll destroy the world. Because Kali is, again, a form of Shiva – there’s like a lot of forms going on, and derivatives going on.

But then Lakshmi…it’s just another reason for worshipping… It’s sort of like, because when Ram comes back, Diwali is celebrated.”

 

Gift exchange:

“Diwali is sort of like Christmas, people will exchange a lot of gifts, we’ll make sure to go to… so like my father’s not close to his brother at all, but Diwali was like the only time when his brother would come greet us, and get some sweets, and things like that. Fruits are a very big thing…you give fruit, and traditional sweets and stuff. Gifts not so much, but sweets and fruits. Dried fruit…. But Dusshera, all this doesn’t happen, it’s this smaller festival in a way.”

 

This Hindu festival, celebrated on the cusp of winter, certainly exhibits features similar to those in other cultures celebrated around the same time, as Pallavi, my informant, cites with her observation that this festival resembles Christmas. It, in a way, acts to herald the coming of winter, and the emphasis on light – Diwali being the Festival of Lights – is sort of a means of fortifying themselves against and lighting up the darkness.

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Diwali Celebration

Informant Bio: Informant is my father.  He was born in Mumbai, India and moved to the U.S . when he was 22.  He still remembers many of the poems and songs from his childhood.  He is fluent in over five languages and provides the original folklore and translations below.

 

Context: I was interviewing the informant about childhood traditions, rituals, songs sung and tales performed.

 

 

Item: “As a kid growing up one of my favorite, perhaps my most favorite holiday was Diwali, or Devali.  We waited for that holiday for months, and, uh, preparations were all around us, you know, my mother used to be busy for months making sweets and goodies that could be shared with family and friends during the holidays.  It actually was a great time of the year weather-wise; we had our half-yearly exams in the schools just before the Diwali vacation so we were more relaxed for the three-four week holiday across schools and colleges across the country.  No matter where you went people would be preparing or anticipating Diwali.

 

One of the things I enjoyed most as a kid was going to different sweet and gift shops with my dad.  You’d be buying custom packages of sweets and you could pick and choose what you wanted in the box.  One of the things I enjoyed the most was that you were allowed to taste everything in the shop.  I really enjoyed this process especially since we would never normally buy these kinds of things.  I’d give my suggestion to my dad and he would listen and agree – this was my bonding time with my dad.  These boxes were decorated extensively and wrapped, and we would then go to different peoples homes where he would give them the gifts with me by his side.  I would shake hands with the people and greet them, wish them ‘Happy Diwali’, and in general have a very pleasant experience and be able to meet different people and see new places.  Most of these people were my father’s business associates or people who’d done him favors throughout the year.  He remembered most of the people who he felt he owed something.  The gifts were a way to give back and everyone accepted gifts at this time.

 

Diwali is, uh, in some sense a religious holiday depending on the religion that you follow.  India has a lot of religions and lots of uh, variety of people with backgrounds, ethnicity and culture, but somehow all people celebrated this particular holiday.  Rich and poor, Hindu and not Hindu, children and adults all participated.  It’s like Christmas in the U.S. in that you cannot move around without being touched by the holiday.  Growing up, Diwali was not commercialized like Christmas is in the U.S. however.  Diwali is when businessmen closed their fiscal year and represents the start of the new year based on the Lunar calendar.  There is no consensus on the exact calendar so Diwali is celebrated at different times throughout the country (sometimes a day or two ahead or behind other places).  It falls on the last month of the year (in the no moon phase of the lunar calendar).

 

The festival itself is five to six days long, and in some parts of the country it stretches to fifteen days.  It usually falls somewhere in October or November.  Uh, mainly most of the people celebrate five days.  The first day is called ‘Dhanteres’ meaning the thirteenth day of the lunar calendar on the no moon side.  Dhan means ‘wealth’ and, that’s the day that businessmen especially would worship their books, and sort-of be thankful for the good year that they’ve had, and, uh that’s a big celebration and right after that there are some sweets and other things that are distributed.  Bonuses are given out to employees and it is a very happy day for most people.  They worship the books and wealth because in Indian culture wealth is not taboo; the pursuit of wealth is considered part of every person’s endeavor.  It is believed that if you are wealthy or if the goddess of wealth has bestowed her blessings on you, it just means you are being rewarded for your good deeds in the past life.  If you continue doing good deeds, you will be rewarded in the future life if stuff isn’t working out right now.

 

The following day is called “Kali Chaudus”, with Kali meaning evil, occurring on the fourteenth day of the lunar cycle in which the evil is won over by goodness.  It is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil.

 

Then comes the Diwali, which is, uh, on the day of the New Moon.  The way the festivities work is that all throughout these holidays people wear nice clothes with the women dressing up.  On that particular day of Diwali there are feasts all over the place.  This is the thing that people really look forward to.  How do people spend months preparing for this?  Girls and older women especially would adorn the entrances to their homes with what is called ‘rangoli’ right outside the door on the side.  They would make dry paints on the floor itself and go in different designs with some of them getting really elaborate, making different shapes.  Basically this is all to welcome visitors that they would be expecting in the holidays.  It reaches a point where regionally people may have competitions among the amateur artists in which the best rangoli is chosen.  The other thing that children were involved with, and this probably didn’t happen throughout the country but did in the area I grew up, was the people in the neighborhood would get together and setup in one of the building compounds that is fenced off.  It would be a 20 feet by 20 feet area in which they’d make different sculptures, statues, a water dam, or maybe scientific experiments.  This would be strung together in an elaborate showing and people would come visit and provide feedback, criticize or admire the work that was done.  You always wanted to put on the best show, it was kind of like show and tell in that you wanted to show the best stuff possible.  There would be more regional competitions which sort of brought out the competitive spirits and different kind of activity that you don’t get involved with during the year or normal school days.  I, as a kid, spent a lot of time trying to come up with ideas and putting these things together.

 

One of the big things during this time is firecrackers.  There were no restrictions about lighting them up.  They were freely available in stores, in fact this was a boom time for all the small shops that carried them.  Surprisingly, there were very few accidents where people got hurt.  I lit up a ton of firecrackers (and everyone else did too).  Every morning, starting around 4/5AM until 8/9AM you’d hear firecrackers and then again at night from 7PM to midnight.  This went on in every street in every corner of the city.  Yes it was noisy, but this was Diwali so people were celebrating so people would expect it and get used to it.

 

The other thing that would happen was just before Diwali people would decorate their homes with different lights, after all this is the festival of lights.  So, they would have electric bulbs sort of strung together in different patterns, decorative lights, and also some, uh, lanterns that are hand-made and oil burning flame.  These lanterns would be all over the place and people would make very elaborate shapes and be artistic with the light.  It looked beautiful; wherever you turned, you saw lights and the celebration, and that was Diwali.

 

This went on and on.  The day after Diwali, businessmen would worship the goddess of wealth and start their books for the new year.  There was no money exchanged but orders would be placed so it was sort of a big start for the new year.  People would be very joyous and contracts would be exchanged.

 

The next day is considered New Year’s Day according to the Hindu calendar.  That morning, people would get up early both children and adults.  They would wear their best clothes that they saved/planned to wear.  People would go out to friends and relatives’ houses, teachers, doctors and dentists houses and would knock on their doors and wish them happy new year.  They would be invited in and would take a little bit of snacks and sweets and went from home to home and place to place.  This would go on for almost a whole day.

 

The following day, the second day of the year, is called “Bhaibeej” or brother’s day.  Sisters would invite their brothers and their family to come to their home for dinner, and, uh the brother would bring some special gift for the sister and sort of vow to protect her that no harm would come to her that year.  That basically would end the Diwali.  Some parts of the country would have extra days of a Mini Diwali celebration with the same festivities on a smaller scale continue.

 

Analysis: Diwali represents the triumph of brightness over darkness and good over evil.  The festival legend surrounds the return of Lord Rama from a fourteen year exile.  He was fighting the demon king Ravana and succeeded.  People lit a path of oil lamps for Lord Rama and his family to follow back to their palace.  This would be an extraordinarily happy time that calls for celebration, as Diwali does.

 

Highly illuminated homes signify a connection to the skies and heavens; people are trying to show respect while also garnering a connection with the heavens for the attainment of wealth, happiness and prosperity (all associated with light).  The use of firecrackers helps call attention to the heavens of humans and their happy expressions.  The significance of light could also be investigated on an internal level.  We want avoid being consumed by darkness, but instead exude the light so that we can make the world around us a better place, achieve illumination of the soul and be closer to the heavens.

 

Interviewer Note: I included some pictures of the rangoli and Diwali celebrations in the attachment labeled ‘Diwali Pictures.docx”.


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Diwali traditions

My informant was born and raised in Fresno, California. His parents immigrated to the United States from India. He described the traditions his family has to celebrate the Indian holiday of Diwali:

“What Diwali basically is, is actually the festival of lights. Me and my family, we celebrate it every year around October. It’s always towards the end of October but the actual date changes every year. So this year, it was actually when I was away at college. So what we did is I ‘webcammed’ with my mom, and the webcam was right there, and I saw all the rituals they were doing. And there’s actually two days of it. So we light candles, and the candles are supposed to represent purity and they’re supposed to guard us from all the impure things that happen in our house, like greed and dishonesty. And by lighting the candles, that gets rid of all of that. So the first day, they light up twelve candles, and the second day, which is the main day, they light up twenty-one candles. There’s twenty small candles in a circle and in the middle is one bigger candle. By candle, I mean something called a diya, which is like a wooden pot, so to speak. The bigger candle is supposed to be lit all night, and my mom usually stays up all night to like, protect it and see if it’s lighting up. And usually, our tradition is we stay up all night and play games and invite some family friends over. What we do on the second day is, after we’re done with the prayers and stuff is we eat. My mom always makes really good food. It changes every year based on our preferences, but it’s always our favorite food. So it’s a really huge deal for us and other Indian families. And three, four weeks before and after Diwali there’s always parties—Indian get-togethers—where everyone wears Indian clothes. And it’s always a big deal. We always call our relatives in India, wish them a happy Diwali. We light fireworks. Decorations include lights around our whole house—like Christmas lights—so usually our lights stay up from Diwali until Christmas.”

Diwali is a holiday rich in rituals that have been around for centuries, but my informant updated it in a way by participating in the rituals via webcam. They used new technology to perpetuate their old traditions. Like many folklore traditions, Diwali is unifying for my informant’s family; they make an effort to call each other to wish each other happy Diwali despite being thousands of miles away. It is interesting how one element of the holiday—the lights strung around the house—carry over so seamlessly from Diwali to Christmas. Despite the vast differences between these two holidays, they both incorporate decorative lights. Yet as my informant explained, the lights for Diwali are integral to the significance and meaning of the holiday in a deeper way than they are for Christmas. He said that the lights around the house and the candles lit inside the home are believed to protect the family from impurities. It is a pretty literal symbol, with the light combatting the darkness in the way that pure virtues should combat evil ones, but it is a beautiful one nonetheless. The beauty of the holiday paired with its religious and cultural significance as well as its unifying nature make it a very special one for people all over the world.

Festival
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Festival – India

My elementary school friend, Ridhi, is Hindu.  Her parents were born and raised in India.  Despite that Ridhi, was born in America she still is very involved in the Hindu culture, participating in all the festivals and traditions.  One of these festivals is Diwali.  It is the festival of lights in the Indian-Hindu culture.  This festival takes place to bring forth the New Year.

Many ceremonies and traditions are involved in this festival.  The first is the prayer, or puja, to the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi.  The purpose of praying to this specific goddess is to invite her into the house. Supposedly she will cleanse the house of all of the previous year’s “dirt”.  After cleansing the house she will leave it open to the bringing of prosperity.

During this festival, Ridhi’s family makes traditional Indian foods such as roti, chola and dal.  They also dance traditional Indian dances with their family and friends.

Another tradition in this Hindu festival is to put many lights outside the house.  Essentially these lights, light up the house, therefore making it easy for the goddess, Lakshmi to find and then cleanse.  Another “light” tradition is the setting off of fireworks. This tradition is obviously more modern, as fireworks are a need invention.  However, I believe that the fireworks are another form of lighting up the house so that goddess Lakshmi can find it.

[geolocation]