The sky was particularly gloomy on Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine. The sun never made an appearance and rain would fall gently but unpredictably. For parents dropping off their kids at soccer practice, it’s just a sunless and damp Saturday. But for those attending the Ektaa Center’s Diwali Fest, that day was a celebration for the Festival of Lights – a holiday symbolizing the victory of light over darkness and good over evil.
Diwali means “Festival of Lights” and it is a holiday that is widely celebrated across the globe, but particularly in India and South Asia. Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and people of Indian heritage and non-Indian heritage celebrate Diwali, though traditions and origin stories vary across cultures and regions.
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While the amount of days Diwali can be celebrated also varies, most people participate in a five-day festival with different ceremonies on each day — the third day being the main Diwali celebration, which always falls on the day of a new moon.
Similar to other Hindu holidays, Diwali follows the lunar calendar and the date varies annually, usually falling between October and November. In Orange County, Diwali celebrations are typically held one week to 10 days in advance of the day of the new moon, which falls on Tuesday, Oct. 24 this year.
Diwali Festivals Light Up a Rainy Day in OC
“A lot of the community shops around during the week before, or the 10 days before, for gifts for clothing, because they all like to wear new clothing during the Festival (of Lights),” said Harish Murthy, executive director of the Ektaa Center. “So, many of the vendors that will be part of the festival are the ones that would actually be supplying and or selling these gifts, clothing and jewelry. And that’s what the festival facilitates.”
The Ektaa Center’s Diwali Fest was a one-stop shop for individuals to purchase their Diwali decorations and offerings as much as it was a space intended for people to celebrate Diwali ahead of their usual holiday commitments.
“People tend to have some kind of ceremony, either at home or at the temples, and we felt that that would interfere or cause some conflict in their scheduling,” Murthy said. “So we prefer to do this about a week, 10 days or the weekend before actual Diwali happens.”
Similarly, the Federation of Indian American Association (FIA) also hosted a Diwali celebration on Saturday night, Oct. 15, at La Palma Park in Anaheim. Like the Ektaa Center, the FIA has been hosting Diwali events in Orange County for many years. According to Manoj Agrawal, an organizer for the FIA’s Diwali Mela – Festival of Lights, the federation has been organizing annual Diwali events for the past 30 years.
“Diwali, or Deepawali, gets its name from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, which means ‘row of clay lamps.’ Many people in India will light these lamps outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects them from spiritual darkness, in tune with a holiday that is an ode to the triumph of good over evil,” Agrawal said.
Like FIA’s previous Diwali events, this year’s celebration consisted of cultural performances from various age groups, live concerts, and food and clothing vendors. Those who attended FIA’s Diwali Mela this year also got to enjoy a special performance from Bollywood singer and performer Siddhant Bhonsle, who is the son of renowned Bollywood singer Sudesh Bhonsle.
“I’ve been amazed at the number of people that are not necessarily of Indian origin, who see what I would call as the positive nature of this festival, and the joy and festivities of the festival, be something that they can embrace,” Murthy said. “And that’s why we get a lot of people who are not necessarily from just the diaspora, but also outside of the diaspora.”
Diwali events, such as that of the Ektaa Center and the FIA this past Saturday, have been bringing together thousands of people from various communities in Orange County and exposing them to Indian culture for decades.
Diwali Origin Stories
Why celebrate Diwali? You will likely receive a different answer or, at the very least, a variation to a similar story each time you ask a different person. Since Diwali is a widely celebrated holiday in various parts of the world, people in different regions and across cultures will naturally celebrate the Festival of Lights according to their own customs, traditions and stories.
“People light lamps at Diwali to remember that light triumphs over dark, knowledge prevails over ignorance, and good triumphs over evil,” Murthy said. “The festival is essentially meant to bring a very positive and a very uplifting message to all communities.”
Located on Reynolds Avenue in Irvine is a Mandir, or Hindu temple, where individuals are welcome to attend daily services or pray privately to their favorite deities. Suresh Lohiya, a volunteer at the Mandir, said even though 50 people can be praying in the same physical space, each individual has a unique spiritual journey and personal connection to the deities.
Prince Rama’s Journey
Many Hindus consider Prince Ram, also referred to as Sri Ram, to be the incarnate of Lord Vishnu, the supreme protector. The name of Sri Ram’s Kingdom, Ayodhya, means “no conflict,” and the reign of Sri Rama came to be known as Ram Rajya, which means “sovereignty of the people based on pure moral authority,” Lohiya said.
According to Hindu history, Valmiki was Prince Rama’s contemporary Hindu sage, also known as a Rishi. Rishi Valmiki recorded Prince Rama’s life into an ancient epic poem called Ramayana, which contains over 24,000 verses and was written 10,000 to 14,000 years ago, though the actual date remains debatable.
Like many Hindus, Lohiya celebrates Diwali to honor the return of the Crown Prince Rama of Ayodhya. Prince Rama’s wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, both of whom left the kingdom with the exiled prince 14 years prior, returned with him on the day known as Diwali.
The night of their return was supposed to be lightless with the onset of the new moon. But the darkness of the sky was quickly engulfed by rows of lamps the people of Ayodhya were lighting to welcome their rightful king home.
“It is not just a celebration of his welcoming. It is a celebration of him being the ideal son – he was always for justice, he was truthful, he had patience, he had endurance, he had the highest tolerance, he had intelligence, and most importantly, he spent his 14 exiled years serving the community,” Lohiya said.
Many Hindus believe Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, incarnated into Prince Rama’s wife, Sita, according to hinduamerican.org.
“On Diwali night, most Hindus offer prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the god representing good fortune and wisdom for the coming year,” Agrawal said.
Prince Rama is often recognized as the human embodiment of dharma, a popular concept in Indian religions that can be described as “what is right, what is duty, what is righteousness, what is good, what will benefit the society, what will benefit you — it’s multiple things,” Lohiya said.
Through a similar story of good versus evil, other Hindus commemorate Diwali as the day Lord Krishna killed the evil demon king, Narakasura.
Diwali signifies the spiritual victory of light over darkness, as evident in the epics associated with its origin, but certain regions of India also recognize the holiday as a celebration of the new year.
“Diwali is the last day of the Indian calendar year and the 25th is new year’s day. That’s the first day of an Indian calendar in the new year. And we start with praying to Lord Krishna, and our gods, so he can bless us and we can have a beautiful new year,” said Narendra Shah, chairman of the Radha Raman Vedic Temple.
For those who missed last Saturday’s Diwali festivities, more celebration is in store at the Radha Raman Vedic Temple. The three-part celebration consists of a Diwali Puja, or religious ceremony, hosted by Chairman Shah on Oct. 24. The following day on Oct. 25, the temple will host a feast where congregation members will bring sweets and food offerings for Lord Krishna.
Lastly, the temple will conclude Diwali celebrations with a festival on Oct. 30, featuring cultural programs, youth performances and various activities for children.
Whether individuals choose to visit the Mandir in Irvine, the Radha Raman Vedic Temple in Placentia or the altars in their own homes during this upcoming Diwali, the spirit of celebration is shared by over a billion people across the world who rejoice in the appreciation of light and goodness.
Kim Pham is a contributing writer for Voice of OC Arts & Culture. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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