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Simple Preparations for Diwali

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I am passionate about renewing the festivals that are important to us so that we celebrate them in a way that is authentic to our unique family values and culture. I have noticed that there are many guides and articles about how Waldorf-inspired families celebrate Christian and/or Pagan festivals but very few about how others mindfully celebrate their family’s festivals and I want to change that.

It is my hope that this journal entry and many more to come will inspire others with similar belief systems to renew, recreate and celebrate this festival in their own way. I also believe it is vital that those who don’t share the same spiritual heritage acknowledge and witness the beauty and goodness in others’ traditions. There is so much to learn and enjoy about our diversity. 

This contribution is from Simi Pannu, a Yoga Instructor and University of Toronto Scholar. You can find her on Instagram @simisutras or her website iamsimipannu.com

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In your words, what is Diwali?

Diwali is the celebration of good over evil. It is known better as the Festival of Lights in the West, but traditionally it marks the new year. It’s celebrated in a host of ways, with each ethnicity in India adding their own religious and familial flavor. It is of time of celebration, dreaming, and the coming together of family and traditions which often are passed down generation from generation. 

What does Diwali symbolize and mean to you and your family?

For myself, it is a reason to celebrate and come together as a family. I always dream of the food–In Eastern cultures, often food is symbolic of three things: community, nourishment and love. There is pleasure and joy as well, traditions are repeated and created. Most significantly, Diwali is a time to dream big and, trust that life moving forward will bring more abundance and adventure. 

Can you draw a parallel between this festival and the natural world around us? Is there a connection between what is happening seasonally and what this festival symbolizes? 

Totally. Diwali occurs at the end of the Harvest season. After months of hard work from working the fields, farmers celebrate their efforts. The Goddess synonymous to Diwali is Lakshmi, Goddess of Prosperity. It means that hard work from honoring the land and working together as a community will lead to reward and relaxation/nourishment into the winter months. In a way, the New Year begins with family, rest, and reflection, markers of Winter. 

What beliefs/virtues/values do you hope to bring to light by honouring this tradition?

I hope to bring the importance of food and nourishment. There is so much emphasis on honoring the respecting the land, especially in the Northern Regions of India such as Punjab. Respecting where our food comes from— whether is from the farm or from the hands of a pastry artisan or chef mirrors how much we respect ourselves and our community. This is an important value which has been passed on in my family: love your food, respect it, and the body/mind/soul is nourished.

How do you set the scene for Diwali? Is there anything you do in advance before the first day to mark or model that this time is coming? (Decor? Creating a small scene on a table?)

The day before, a family normally will declutter and thoroughly clean the house. Traditionally, this symbolize the movement of stagnating energy so that new energy/wealth can enter the home. On the day of, my siblings and I will head to my parents home. There will be a beautiful pattern at the entrance of the doorway called a rangoli, which is made with rice. As the sun sets, we will light candles throughout the home and open our windows. This symbolizes letting the Goddess Lakshmi into the home for goodluck! Throughout the home, there are South Asian pastries, brut is served to guests (a little Western twist) while old bollywood songs play in the background. The food served honors our Sikh and Mughal heritage: Palak Paneer, Lamb Biryani, handmade Naan bread (a symbol of the harvest). Near the end of the night, various herbs and incense are burned as, the matriarch of the home goes around the blesses each room and guest, by offering them a sweet and, giving a small prayer while the incense cleanes their energy. At the end of it all, it’s time for fireworks! Some families will also offer gifts (think Christmas) however, my family has always focused on presence over gift giving, though guests often bring house warming gifts as a token of gratitude. 

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Are there any elements of this tradition that are for adults only?

Diwali is all about family, so the tradition is inclusive for matter the age. Children often are the centre of attention, because they often remind the adults the joy that comes with being in awe of a New Year, and the importance of letting the past go in order to make way for new experiences and opportunities. 

Are there any children’s books featuring Diwali celebrations that you recommend?

  • Lots of Lights – Kavita Sahai 
  • Amma, Tell Me About Diwali! – Bhakti Mathur
  • Rani Saves Diwali – Anita Badhwar
  • Lights for Gita – Rachna Gilmore

This contribution is from Simi Pannu, a Yoga Instructor and University of Toronto Scholar. You can find her on Instagram @simisutras or her website iamsimipannu.com

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