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Diwali: The Festival of Lights

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By Preethi Mangadu
Web Content Contributor

May the light of Diwali remind us that from darkness there is knowledge, wisdom, and truth. From division, unity. From despair, hope. To Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, and Buddhists celebrating in America and around the world — from the People’s House to yours, happy Diwali. – President Joe Biden 

Diwali, or Deepavali, is one of the biggest Indian holidays of the year. Otherwise known as the festival of lights, this five-day holiday is celebrated by many people of various faiths such as Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Buddhism, etc. through the lighting of Diyas (oil lamps), firecrackers, sparklers, fireworks and more. 

“Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in India,” President of Texas State’s Indian Student Association (ISA) and senior Neeharika Tipparaju said. “It is the Festival of Lights, always comes on Amavasya (the lunar phase of the new moon). People light up their houses with Diyas and other lights symbolizing that there is a ray (light) of hope even in the darkness.”  

Though there are many myths behind Diwali depending on the different regions, they all tend to symbolize the triumph of good over evil. From northern India, the most common story is that Diwali was the day that Lord Rama of Ayodhya defeated the demon, King Ravana of Lanka, after Rama’s fourteen years of exile.  

Diwali is also credited to the story of Lord Krishna defeating the demon Narakasura. Other tales attribute Diwali to the birth of the goddess Lakshmi of wealth and her marriage to Lord Vishnu, the preserver of humanity. These are a few myths behind Diwali, but there are many more that come from several faiths. 

The Other Collective, a student-run, de-colonial magazine at UC Davis, made a post on their Instagram titled “Say No to Diwali” that claims Diwali is a predominantly the upper caste’s and sarvana Hindus’ holiday that excludes and oppresses those who have been marginalized by the caste system, so it should not be celebrated. Soon after this post was made their accounts were made private and their website went under maintenance.  

The caste system is originally a social hierarchy based on a hereditary transfer of occupation, lifestyle, and social status through generations. It is divided into five categories: Brahmins (priests, teachers, gurus, etc.), Kshatriyas (warriors, kings, owners of territories, administrators, etc.), Vaishyas (agriculturalists, traders, those involved in commerce, etc.), Shudras (laborers), and the Untouchables (lowly jobs, Dalit communities).  

 From it, came caste discrimination which is the exclusion/mistreatment of those in the lower castes, and the Other Collective’s claim suggest that Diwali enforces caste discrimination.  

There are many people who have protested Diwali as well such as Thenmozhi Soundararajan, a Dalit American activist. “Diwali and Dussehra are both upper-caste holidays that celebrate the death of tribals and the ascent of Aryan culture over Dravidian culture,” said Soundararajan in an article with the Guardian. “In many ways Dalit communities do not celebrate this event – it’s literally about the killing of our people.”  

For others Diwali is an overall cultural event, not just religious, that brings together several communities. It often represents spiritual or physical triumphs and brings together families and friends for a joyous occasion.  

 “To everyone, it is just another festival, but for me, it’s more about reuniting with my loved ones and celebrating, thanking God for everything that I have, and praying for everyone’s wellbeing,” said Tipparaju.  

 to explain this further, Christmas has a similar phenomenon in America. Though it is originally a Christian holiday to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it has become a cultural holiday throughout America for many people of different faiths to celebrate family, thankfulness, home, etc.  

Nonetheless, those who claim that Diwali should not be celebrated go against the freedom of religion clause stated in the First Amendment in the American Constitution.  

Having the ability to celebrate religious and cultural holidays publicly reinforces equality and rejects discrimination of all kinds. In colleges, this is very important as well since college should be a safe space for every student and faculty member. If Diwali was banned at a college, it would promote inequality among students of different cultures and religions and religious persecution.

In the end, Diwali is the festival of lights that celebrates good over evil and brings together communities. If you want to experience this holiday with performances, games, and more, ISA is hosting The Festival of Lights on November 13, 2021, in the LBJ Student Center Ballroom at 6:00 p.m. 

Featured Image by Preethi Mangadu

Written by: ktsw899

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