Informant: RS

Ethnicity: Indian

Primary Language: English, Konkani

Age: 58

Text: [RS] When I was growing up, every Deepavali we used to decorate the house with flower garlands and draw rangoli on the walls as they are considered auspicious. Oil baths were also important. We were woken up very early in the morning, and our mom would apply herbal oils from head to toe. After an hour, we would scrub the oil from our skin, be fed sweet porridge, and then be sent back to bed.

Context: Deepavali is the festival of lights, celebrating the triumph of good over evil and light over dark. The festival, and in particular, the ritual of the oil bath, was emphasized as being very important to the informant and his family. The informant believes that the oil baths are a way of washing off past sins. He also noted that he thinks of the festival as a time to celebrate new beginnings.

Analysis: Deepavali (also known as Diwali) is one of the most well-known Indian folk festivals, involving several rituals rooted in themes of light and purification. The festival celebrates the light that comes after a period of darkness; the ritual oil baths, which the informant believes to absolve one of sin, are symbolic of this clean slate that follows the festivities. According to the informant, the oils used are typically specific herbal blends, a reflection of traditional knowledge of folk medicine that has been passed down through generations. The practice of eating a sweet after being cleansed from the oil bath is likely to start off with something good to set the tone for the rest of the year. Deepavali provides those who celebrate with a cathartic opportunity to create a fresh start for themselves as well as spend time with loved ones. As a result, the festival is deeply important to Hindu culture and tradition.