Far From Diwali's Lights, The Warm Glow Of Home

Little oil lamps mark Diwali celebrations in Allahabad, India, far away from American homes. i i

Little oil lamps mark Diwali celebrations in Allahabad, India, far away from American homes. Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images
Little oil lamps mark Diwali celebrations in Allahabad, India, far away from American homes.

Little oil lamps mark Diwali celebrations in Allahabad, India, far away from American homes.

Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images

Small flickering oil lamps known as diyas are lighting up Indian homes in South Asian communities around the globe on Sunday as hundreds of millions of people observe Diwali.

Otherwise known as the Festival of Lights, it's a religious celebration of self-awareness and reflection. Diwali is a public holiday in a number of other nations, but it's not nearly so well-known in the U.S., where families must rely on themselves to keep the tradition alive.

Nestled among old colonial homes in Haverford, Pa., the Shukla home is a vibrant display of light and colorful decoration. Inside the kitchen, it's a feast for the senses. For the Shuklas, Diwali ushers in a new year for self-reflection or, as they put it, finding the light within.

Ravindra Shukla, Aseem's father, kneels before the family altar as part of the holiday celebration.

Ravindra Shukla, Aseem's father, kneels before the family altar as part of the holiday celebration. Lakshmi Singh/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Lakshmi Singh/NPR

Celebrations begin with a ritual of prayer called Lakshmi Puja. Shoes off, seated on the floor, three generations of the Shukla family take part invoking the Hindu goddess Lakshmi to bring wealth, prosperity and peace to the home. The gathering then evolves into a retelling of centuries-old tales of Hindu gods battling between good and evil, symbolizing a person's struggle within.

As second-generation Indian-Americans, Suhag Shukla and her husband, Aseem, are keenly aware of how easy it is to lose touch with tradition. They say Diwali pulls their kids back from the distractions of western culture to remember a heritage that places heavy emphasis on devotion to others.

The ritual ends with a song, Hanuman Chalisa. Aseem Shukla says it captures the resilience of Hindus who, generations ago, left their homeland behind, but have never let go.

"That came with them on the boats, when they came as sugar cane workers, plantation workers," he says. "That was, like, the few things they had, so they sing this with a lot of passion."

But, at the end of the day in the Shukla home, Diwali represents the celebration of family.

Comments

 

Discussions about race, ethnicity and culture tend to get dicey quickly, so we hold our commenters on Code Switch to an especially high bar. We may delete comments we think might derail the conversation. If you're new to Code Switch, please read over our FAQ and NPR's Community Guidelines before commenting. We try to notify commenters individually when we remove their comments, but given that we receive a high volume of comments, we may not always be able to get in touch. If we've removed a comment you felt was a thoughtful and valuable addition to the conversation, please don't hesitate to get in touch with us by emailing codeswitch@npr.org.