By Simran P. Gupta
This weekend, hundreds of families will be donning beautiful traditional garb, lighting candles, cooking delicious food, and dancing to lively music throughout Boston. Sunday, Oct. 30, is Diwali, the Hindu New Year also known as the “Festival of Lights.”
The specific date of the holiday varies from year to year, as it depends on the lunar calendar, but one can expect the holiday to fall anytime in late October to early November. Though the main festival night of Diwali is the one recognized on calendars in western countries, the traditional festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five-day period. In accordance with the lunar calendar, the main festival night coincides with the darkest, night of the month under the moon.
The story of Diwali itself originates from the Ramayan, one of the great Hindu epics. One of the major Hindu holidays, it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness and good over evil, among other things. The western moniker “Festival of Lights” was born because of the number of small “diyas,” or candles, that factor into the celebration. In areas such as India and the rest of the South Asian subcontinent, observant families set out scores of tiny candles adorning windowsills, walkways, rooftops, and more. Fireworks in South Asia and firecrackers in the west are another huge part of the holiday, which includes elaborate feasts with many courses and numerous sweets, as well as performing “puja,” or worship, at the temple.
Hindus across the world celebrate Diwali to honor the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakshmana from an exile of 14 years, after Lord Rama defeated the evil demon king Ravana and rescued his wife. The diyas that seem to light up the entire world on Diwali illuminate the path of the three travelers, as well as symbolizing his triumph as that of good over evil.
For families in Boston who celebrate Diwali, while it is without the recognition of an “official” holiday, forms of celebration differ. At Simmons, the South Asian Society (SASS) and Asian Students Association (ASA) will be putting on a “Night of Lights” event on Friday, Nov. 4. Students who celebrate the event are invited, as are those who wish to attend in support of their friends or even simply to learn more about a holiday that is important for much of the student body. “Pull out your favorite desi clothes or black-tie outfit. There will be a lovely vegetarian dinner catered by Punjabi Grill, featuring “diyas and rangoli.” Bring your friends, everyone is welcome!” reads the Facebook event.
Many students who are far from home will gather at local temples and have smaller-scale celebrations with friends and their families as well. People looking for avenues of celebration in Boston will find many events, some free and some ticketed.
The MFA will be holding an event on Wednesday, Nov. 2, starting at 4 p.m. Special events throughout the night include art instruction on traditional painting styles, traditional dance performances, and many different tours and talks ranging from the museum’s own collection of South Asian art to traditional Indian instruments.