Festival of Lights
Community comes together to celebrate Diwali
While everyone has a special event that stands out among the rest, for the people of India, Diwali is the biggest holiday of the year. While the date of the annual celebration changes based on the lunar calendar, Diwali typically falls between October and November each year.
“Diwali is the Festival of Lights, celebrated across different religions (including Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains) across India and byt Indians in the world,” says POONAM KAHLON (pictured left), local event spokesperson. “The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness.”
The festival is as important to Indians as the Christmas/holiday season in the U.S. Diwali, which for some also coincides with harvest and new year celebrations, Kahlon says.
Diwali celebrates new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness and features the symbol of The Diya, or Indian candle, representing light throughout Diwali celebrations.
“Growing up, this is a holiday I looked forward to the most. The whole city was lit up, and markets were beautifully decorated. Exchange of gifts and sweets is a common tradition, [as are] new clothes, great meals, evening prayers and the fireworks at night,” she says. “I practice Sikhism and for Sikhs, Diwali is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619. Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting the Golden Temple, and this tradition continues today.”
A Diwali celebration was held in Wilmington on November 20, bringing together people in the community. The event featured folk performances/dances, songs, food, Indian attire, and decorations
“It is always a great feeling to celebrate and get closer to our roots,” Poonam says. “And to recreate what we miss of home here. It is great to see the community come together and celebrate. It also helps us connect our young kids to our Indian culture. We had great performances, food, and a fun-filled night.”
Fellow organizer, SAJEL PATEL was very appreciative for the event to take place after the previous two years of disruption to everyday lives.
“It meant a lot for community members to be close to each other, to actually feel connected, and as officers, we took all the possible precautions and made arrangements to give them a relaxed evening,” says Sajel. “The local community is our home away from home and the only way sometimes to experience our culture, roots, and beliefs. For our kids, this is the only exposure to real ‘Indian Diwali celebration’ that they get.”
The Cape Fear Cultural Association of India, which hosted the event, has been in existence for many years. One of the greatest parts of the celebration taking place in Wilmington is the ability to bring different cultures together.
“One way to connect and celebrate is through cultural festivals; it provides members of a community with opportunities to engage with each other,” Poonam says. “Community events, activities, and gatherings are a great way to connect with others, make new friends, nurture long lasting relationships, and often help other people in your community in a multitude of ways. In the end, you can walk away from a live event with something as simple as a good feeling and a great memory or to something as amazing as a new friendship that can last for years.”
After such a long period of separation due to pandemic lockdowns, events like Diwali are such a welcomed sight.
“Cultural celebrations foster respect and open-mindedness for other cultures,” Poonam says. “Celebrating our differences, as well as our common interests, helps unite and educate us. To understand others’ perspectives, to broaden our own and to fully experience and educate ourselves.”
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