I’m going start this off with a little confession: I am a terrible Indian wife. What could possibly make me so bad at South Asian wifery? Well, here’s the short list:
- This gal is not Indian. Apparently, marrying an Indian dude does not automatically make one Indian. Who knew? And I don’t get dual citizenship either? Lameface. Umm, I was also led to believe there would be pie. Is that not happening, either?
- I only know how to make two Indian curries and one Indian dessert. By American standards that makes me a chef, by Indian standards that makes me pretty unfit for marriage. Oh, stereotypes, you are hilarious.
- I have no idea when any Indian holidays are and I rue the Lunar calendar on which the whole Indian subcontinent bases said holidays.
- Not only do I not know when Indian holidays are, I kinda never bothered to learn what they’re all about. They’re about candy right?
- Dude, that is the largest pinata I’ve ever seen.
So, I thought that this year I should give it the ol’ college try and actually learn something about Diwali, just THE BIGGEST INDIAN HOLIDAY EVER (so I’m told), instead of waiting for my Mother-In-Law to call me and tell me it’s Diwali and ask if I went to the temple. (the answer is YES, yes I did.)
- You won’t believe the trouble Indian Mother-In-Laws go through to track you.
So Here’s Diwali in a nutshell:
First things first, the name. It’s called Diwali, Deepavali, Deepawali, or some bastardization of that. Why? Because each state in India speaks a different language and each language has its own word for Diwali. Sure Hindi and English are known by most, but generally on a day to day basis Indians will speak their state language which means that the one major holiday that everyone celebrates at some random yearly surprise date (thank you Lunar calendar) is called something slightly different by a whole nation of people. Somehow they all just figure out that they’re talking about the same thing. Kudos to them for that, because I’m not so sure Americans would be able to handle it.
- “So I’ll see you again at Xmas, right, Santa? Here’s my list.” “No Mikey, Xmas is the SAME as Christmas. *Sigh* I guess I’ll take this for next year, though.”
For the record, my mister’s family is from Andra Pradesh which is in Southern India. Their state language is Telugu, so they call it Deepavali. I’m referencing it here as Diwali since that’s the Hindi word and thus the more commonly spoken term for the holiday.
Then we have the meaning of Diwali. The literal translation of Deepavali (the original term for the holiday) is “Row of Lights.” It’s also known as the “Festival of Lights.” This is because one of the major components of Diwali is the lighting of small clay oil lamps, called diyas, to represent the triumph of good over evil.
- Yes, it really is a row of lights. It’s also a pyromaniacs dream.
Now we come to the reasons Indians celebrate Diwali. Sure, the overarching theme of Diwali is ‘the triumph of good over evil,’ but think of that as more the leitmotif of the holiday than the totality of it’s existence. Diwali actually spans 5 days (and sometimes 6 depending on where you live and the traditions you celebrate) with each day devoted to some philosophy, ritual, or idea of good’s badassedness.
Here’s the general break down of each day. Prepare yourself for an onslaught of crazy Indian names. Also keep in mind that this information may vary by state, beliefs, family tradition, favorite color, neck size, ice cream preference, etc…
Day 1 is called Dhanteras, Dhanatrayodashi , or Dhanwantari Triodasi. This day celebrates the time when that lord, Dhanwantari: the Physician of the Gods (why would the Gods need a doctor?), did that thing where he pulled himself up out of the ocean and brought Ayurvedic medicine to the world. Woot. Also, this is the day you wanna buy gold, silver, and other metal stuff cause that shit is auspicious.
Day 2 is called Choti Diwali, Kali Chaudas, or Naraka Chaturdashi. Known as Small Diwali, the second day is dedicated to the legend of Lord Krishna’s defeat over the evil demon Narakasura. But wait, there’s more. Sure, everyone’s all like ‘Way to go, Lord Krishna. You’re the best!’ But if you really look at the legend, Krishna’s wife actually killed the demon. So, you know, girl power! Celebrate with some new clothes. (and maybe a new pair of shoes?)
Day 3 is the Lakshmi Puja and the actual day of Diwali. Light your lamps, set off some fireworks, pray to Lakshmi (the Goddess of wealth and beauty) and Ganesh (the God of auspicious beginnings). Oh, and go to the temple, because your Mother-In-Law might call and ask if you did.
Day 4 is Padwa, Bali Pratipada and Govardhan Puja. This day represents Krishna’s defeat of Indra, the deity of thunder and rain. Indra tried to drown some people or something so Krishna lifted Mount Govardhana to save them from the floods. I didn’t find anything saying that Krishna’s wife stepped up to save the day, so I guess we can give him this one. On this day you should eat mountains of food. Get it? MOUNTAINS of food? hee hee.
Day 5 is Yama Dwitiya, Bhaiduj, Bhayyaduj, Bhaubeej or Bhayitika. This day is based on the story of a chick named Yami (she’s a river or something?) who had a visit from her brother Yama (he’s the God of Death or something?). They had a feast and he gave her a gift. Yes, a truly riveting story. The point is to probably make brothers feel bad about being mean to their sisters and to make sisters forgive their brothers.
Also, somewhere in there is supposed to be a reminder of Rama’s return from exile after 14 years (Rama was a prince dude) and the return of the Pandavas (who are these dudes?) after 12 years of living incognito.
- Being confused doesn’t make you white. Your whiteness and staunch conservative mentality are what make you white.
Don’t even begin to think I’ve touched the surface of all the particulars that comprise Diwali. I’m just giving the major highlights.
Ok, ok, enough with the tradition stuff. How does one celebrate Diwali? Diwali is pretty awesome because it’s like 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas all blended together into one giganto holiday that just so happens to span multiple days. This means that there are so many ways to celebrate. Here’s a list!
- Light diyas in and around your home. Seriously, put those things anywhere. Make sure you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance because that shit is dangerous.
- Hang lanterns and twinkle lights and whatever ever else puts off glow and/or can catch on fire from all of those diyas you lit.
- Set off some firecrackers. Or let the kids do it, whatever.
- Stuff yourself with a bunch of Indian sweets. For tradition.
- Wear new clothes or make new clothing purchases at this time. It’s actually considered gauche and disrespectful to not wear new outfits (or at least nicer clothes) to Diwali parties, so… you know, don’t be that guy.
- Don’t eat meat or drink alcohol. Don’t worry, you can fill all of your previously occupied meat eatin’, alcohol drinkin’ time by lighting fireworks and eating sweets. And hosing down your house after it catches on fire.
- Make rangoli designs on your doorway. Here’s the Wiki explanation of rangoli and here is a bunch of rangoli designs.
- Hang garlands. Because it’s just a nice thing to do, that’s why.
- For extra Karma points, send Diwali cards to the Indians in your life. For extra Karma AND environmental points, send e-cards. (you hippie.)
Now that you’ve gotten (hopefully) a basic understanding of Diwali, here are the dates of Diwali for 2011:
Today, October 24th marks the first day of Diwali, which means that Wednesday, October 26th is the big Diwali day. Mark your calendars, folks.
So how do you plan on celebrating Diwali?
Information lovingly synthesized from these sites:
- calendar stolen from: http://www.deepavali.net/calendar.php