I’m probably the worst resource on Hindu culture. I was born into the culture/religion and allowed myself to become a white-washed American desi. (Holla at anyone who has seen that movie!) My dad has always been a religious man so most of my cultural education came from participating in prayers when I was young; you know, before Western culture shamed me into assimilation. Plus, you get prasad which is a great way to coax a child into learning their religion.
I remember Diwali being the “big holiday” because there were lots of food and family and lights, and of course Lakshmi puja (pronounced “pooh-jaw” meaning prayers, Lakshmi puja is specifically for prosperity). It’s a ritualistic/ceremonious prayer in which we pay respect to our Gods by cleaning their statues in milk, then water, then adorning a tilak with a few grains of rice. I don’t know the symbolism of the rice, I just know it’s fun to get it to stick in the tilak mixture. My dad did the praying part, I just did the manual labour.
A part of the Lakshmi puja is paying respect to the prosperity that you do have, meaning we give certain coins the same treatment as the statues. My family has collected coins from every country we’ve lived in: Trinidad, India, the USA and Canada. Believe me, you haven’t felt cultural dissociation until you’ve applied a tilak to George Washington’s forehead.
I didn’t understand the puja for a really long time because Lakshmi doesn’t have to do with the story behind Diwali but I honestly just go with it. On the day of Lakshmi puja you need to clean your house because if you do and display lights for her, Lakshmi just might come and bless your home.
I was taught that even on regular days some people leave their doors open in the evening, around 6pm, to welcome similar blessings into their homes. However, everyone has scrapped this idea because burglars don’t give a shit who else you were expecting.
What’s the deal tho?
This legend I recall from my childhood. If you’re interested in a longer less fuzzy version, you can look up the Ramayana. There are movies and the original text. For hazy ill-remembered Cliff Notes, continue reading.
Once there was a beautiful Goddess named Sita, married to our hero, Rama. They were super in love. I’ve decided their ship name is Ramita.
Then our villain comes in. His name is Ravana and he has far too many heads and arms. He kidnaps Sita with a flying chariot and hides her in Sri Lanka. I’m 90% sure that Sita was much beloved and this pissed off a lot of people/Gods, especially Rama.
Rama, being a motherfucking hero, built a bridge to Sri Lanka to retrieve his beloved. Fun fact: NASA has found remnants of a land bridge that once connected India to Sri Lanka. It’s called Adam’s Bridge which makes no sense to me, but it’s also known as Rama’s Bridge which makes a bit more sense.
Once Rama got to Sri Lanka, a battle took place. Much like the Battle of Five Armies it was probably huge, and much like Bilbo, I have no idea how it went down. Skip to Rama pwning Ravana in his many faces.
To help Ramita find their way home, we light diyas (oil lamps in a tear drop-shaped holder). Thus, Diwali is the festival of lights. It’s the celebration of light’s defeat over darkness and the return of the OTP of the Gods.
While I don’t know how to actually celebrate like someone who does this yearly, festivities always include a whole lot of fireworks! Keep an eye on NASA or Google because you can see this shit from space. (Living in Brampton, I personally see them from my bedroom window.)
Happy Diwali! I hope you learned something because this is everything I know.