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At Diwali, A Festival of Lights


by Cindy Chaffin 16 Oct 2009

Saturday is Diwali, the Festival of Lights, celebrated by a billion or so Hindus worldwide. Barely known in the United States, more and more people are celebrating it in North Texas, as the South Asian population has grown to a hundred-fifty thousand or so. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports:

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Diwali = Di VOLL ee (like volleyball)

Saturday is Diwali, the Festival of Lights, celebrated by a billion or so Hindus worldwide. Barely known in the United States, more and more people are celebrating it in North Texas, as the South Asian population has grown to a hundred-fifty thousand or so. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports:

It’s a breezy, cool & drizzly evening outside the new Cowboys stadium. Tens of thousands of mostly South Asians have turned out for the 4th annual Diwali Mela – the Diwali Carnival. Stages and booths with food and clothes for sale line the parking lot. This night is one of many events leading up to October 17th.

Sri lakshmi: “Its more or less like how we have Thanksgiving here. It’s a big event. Of all the festivals, Diwali is the biggest.”

Sri Lakshmi was born in India, but has lived in North Texas 11 years. She says Diwali represents the day the Hindu God, Lord Rama, victoriously returned home after 14 years in exile. It was forced on him by the demon named Ravan, whom Lord Rama finally defeats. The success symbolizes good over evil, and for thousands of years, Hindus have lighted the path home for Rama and his wife, by burning candles.

Lakshmi: “We put a lot of lights, what we call Diya, and put it in front of our house. We welcome Lord Rama to our house. We put a lot of color in front of our house, we decorate our house with lights, candles and everything.”

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Each year, as part of Diwali celebrations, volunteer actors present the folk play called Ramlila. The open-air drama depicts Lord Rama’s encounters with the evil demon and Rama’s ultimate moral and physical victory. [Lakshmi’s little son played a small role.] Volunteer stage hand Sanjay Date says he participated when he was young.

Sanjay Date (DAH-tay): “Because of my size, I was the Ravan, which is like the demon. It’s a lot of fun (laughs).”

In some countries, the play Ramlila is spread over days. At Cowboys Stadium, it lasts about an hour. Near the end, the sky lights up with celebratory fireworks. Satish Gupta, key organizer of this North Texas Diwali event, says its all in keeping with the festival. He says it’s not only a bit like Thanksgiving, but also Christmas and New Years combined.

Satish Gupta: “Any major festival, around the world, somehow it has a relationship to the light. Light means you are trying to remove darkness. Darkness from yourself, darkness from the world, and trying to get peace. So light is also always associated with the peace, with the calmness and with removing the darkness.”

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Gupta says after days of different Diwali-related rituals with lights, drama and music, Diwali itself turns low-key. Hindus visit their temples. Those of the Sikh and Jain faiths also observe Diwali. Time is spent mostly at home, where family is honored, and the faithful give thanks and pray for peace, prosperity and happiness in the coming year.

Gupta: “You do certain prayers, then spend time with the family, and exchange gifts with the family. Normally you don’t have any big celebration that particular day.”

Many Hindus here welcome the North Texas Diwali festival, not only for its religious and spiritual significance, but because it’s a fond reminder of home, at least for a brief time, anyway. Many here are from south Asia. They say, it’s a way for native Texans – some of whom attended the festival – to experience a bit of their own culture, including the fireworks.

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