Story of Diwali

Background: The informant (A) is the 20 year old daughter of two Indian immigrants. She has lived in the US her whole life but visits relatives India with her family often and celebrates many Indian holidays in the US with Indian friends and family in her area.

A: Basically Ram’s wife gets kidnapped by Ravan, and then Ram crosses an ocean to reach her in Lanka, and in Lanka he kills Ram and is able to take Sita back home. So that’s like… the day of Diwali. It’s in like October usually I think?

Me: What do you guys do on Diwali?

A: We light a lot of um… tea lights? These little lights called “diyas”. It’s technically 5 days long but on the actual like….main day we put on Indian clothes and have like…a big family dinner. And we worship the goddess Lakshmi.

Me: Why do you worship Lakshmi?

A: She’s the goddess of wealth….I don’t know really know why but we just worship her on Diwali because she just symbolizes wealth and prosperity. And also we clean the house and make it really spotless…Lakshmi’s supposed to come and bless your house once it’s clean. That’s why you light all the candles too, for her.

Context: This story was told to me over a recorded FaceTime call.

Analysis: The informant grew up in America rather than in India itself where Diwali is a national holiday that everybody celebrates and is involved in. So, I assume there are parts of this celebration that are changed when celebrating away from the mother country. She wasn’t entirely certain about specifics of the origin story, traditions, and parts of the religion, as she isn’t a particularly religious person. This story and her celebrations not only demonstrate the concept of Diwali in the context of India, but also the experience of a first generation immigrant. Aspects of the culture evolve to accommodate the fact that they no longer reside in a community where not everyone celebrates the same holidays and some items may not be available in their location. These myths and stories are not simply known by everyone around them, they are known and told by the immigrants themselves (in the informant’s case, her parents). This changes the significance and meaning as the informant grew up surrounded by others who did not know the same stories or have the same beliefs.