Diwali Celebration Sparks Study Abroad Memories

November 3, 2010

During my experience studying abroad at Lady Doak College in India in 2008, I participated in the Diwali celebration toward the end of my five-month stay. This year, I anxiously await the first celebration of this important cultural holiday on the Mary Baldwin University campus.

On November 5, the Spencer Center and Women for Women International will celebrate with traditional food, crafts, and the spirit of giving. Participants can make greeting cards, paper lanterns, and other decorations. The event starts at 7 p.m. and is free and open to the public, though donations will be collected for Women for Women.

In Hindu culture, Diwali is a highlight of the calendar year, marked by five days of festivals, delicious foods, and a heightened spiritual atmosphere.

Weeks before the festivities began in 2008, two students approached me about celebrating with their families. As soon as I positively responded to their invitations, I embarked on a shopping adventure, purchasing soft fabrics in vibrant colors and adding to my growing pile of Indian keepsakes. In modern Diwali tradition, people exchange clothing and gifts and everyone wears new clothing to symbolize the wealth goddess’ blessings throughout the year.

The third day marks the Festival of Lights, the main celebration. On this day, fireworks are displayed throughout the streets while at home, individuals light diyas, or candles. At night, families gather to perform Laxmi Puja, a ceremony to invite the goddess of wealth into their homes through oil lamps placed outside their doors.

Wearing my Punjabi suit of peacock blue and golden hay, I visited both classmates’ homes on the third day of the festival. Immediately I was whisked into the family setting, watching American movies on television; playing several Indian hand games, one of which involved throwing three balls back and forth; and trying on traditional ceremonial jewelry. All the while I found myself longing to learn more about this celebrated day.

Suddenly, sparkling pinks, flashes of green, brilliant reds, and dazzling whites loomed over dirt roads, as the firework display began and lasted well into the night. Reminded of American Independence Day, I was soon running barefoot, waving sparklers, and chanting Hindu prayers that welcomed a new year of prosperity.