Safe Place is sponsored by the People of Color Affinity Group at Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation. Contributions are welcomed from Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the congregation. For more information email safespace@mpuuc.org.


Diwali

Diwali, or Dipawali, is India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year. … In northern India, Hindus celebrate the story of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. Southern India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. But the holiday is also celebrated by Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhist, who all have their own origin stories for the significance of the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”.

At our house, previously, Evie’s father Rohit would lead the festival. We begin a few days ahead of time by buying certain ingredients to use for the Pooja, or prayer ceremony. These include: red silk thread, a stick of incense, tiny Terracotta lamps for each room in the house, fresh flowers, parched rice (like unflavored rice crispies), store-bought Indian sweets (such as gulab jamun, ladoo, barfi, jalebi, or ras malai), fresh fruit, and red pigment for making tikka on the practitioners’ foreheads. 

The first part of the celebration is the chanting/singing of a summary of the epic, and the family and friends follow the leader in this call-and-response litany. A large platter with all the offerings to the icons in the small temple or prayer center is prepared and intended for the Diwali Gods and Goddesses (those who are mentioned in the Ramayana). The terracotta lamps are filled with mustard oil and small cotton wicks, and lit. Then each participant receives a new bracelet from the red silk thread, a tikka on their forehead, and goes up to the temple to sweep their hands over the incense and toward their heads, to “take in” the sacred smoke. Once the pooja is complete, we distribute the lamps to each room in the house and then enjoy the fruits and sweets from the big platter. 

This year, I’ll be celebrating only with Evalyn and my brother Steven and one of Evie’s favorite preschool teachers who is also Indian and Hindu. I’ll leave all the prayers and that portion of the ceremony up to Rohit. We will instead focus on more secular traditions like the gorgeous colored-powder designs called Rangoli that children especially delight in making. Rohit was never interested, so it will be a new tradition I’m introducing with the help of our preschool teacher friend, who will also be bringing some traditional homemade sweets over for us to enjoy! With her help, I will have a very small little prayer ceremony in English and then we will light the reusable candle lamps I bought this year, so it will, again, be a bit different than what Rohit does. Evalyn will get the best of both versions of Diwali, Christmas, and Easter holidays by celebrating it differently at each of her homes with each of her families. 

There are many ways to celebrate Diwali, and each region and each family have their own traditions. Ask your Indian and Hindu friends how they celebrate to learn more!

  • Wikipedia tells us: Jains celebrate “Mahavira Nirvana Divas”, the physical death and final nirvana of Mahavira, 24th tirthankara (spiritual saviour/guru). Sikhs celebrate “Bandi Chhor Divas” in remembrance of the release of Guru Hargobind from the Gwalior Fort prison by the Mughal emperor, Jahangir, and the day he arrived at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. Diwali is not a festival for most Buddhists, with the exception of the Newar people of Nepal who revere various deities in the Vajrayana Buddhism and celebrate Diwali by offering prayers to Lakshmi, also a Hindu Goddess, of wealth and beauty. 

As North-Indian Hindu Punjabi’s, our family celebrates Diwali as the final portion of the epic Poem, the Ramayana, about Prince Ram and his wife, Princess Sita, in exile due to a wicked step-mother tricking their father, the King. A lovely kid-friendly cartoon can be found here: https://mocomi.com/diwali/

The Ramayana epic is also a main feature of the book/film A Little Princess (by the same author as A Secret Garden).

While banished and out in the forest, a Demoness (who is sister to Demon King Ravan) falls in love with Prince Rama and tries to seduce him. He resists her advances and cuts off her nose. In retaliation and revenge, Ravana kidnaps Princess Sita and takes her to his kingdom in Lanka. As they hunt for the trail to track Princess Sita, Lord Rama and his brother Lakshman encounter the monkey tribes led by the monkey God, Hanuman. Hanuman becomes the general and secret scout of Lord Rama’s army of monkeys and bears. Hanuman finds Sita and brings her the good news that Lord Rama and his army are on their way to fight the war and set her free. 

The heroic warriors successfully complete their mission, win the war, and set Princess Sita free. They are able to then return victorious to their own kingdom and reclaim their thrones. As they are winding their way through the kingdom to the palace, the entire nation lights up their homes with lamps to celebrate their return. It is this “lighting up the kingdom” from the heroes’ epic triumph over Evil and rescuing of the princess that we celebrate each year at Diwali.

 We begin a few days ahead of time by buying certain ingredients to use for the Pooja, or prayer ceremony. These include: red silk thread, a stick of incense, tiny Terracotta lamps 🪔 for each room in the house, fresh flowers, parched rice (like unflavored rice crispies), Indian sweets (such as gulab jamun, ladoo, barfi, jalebi, or ras malai), fresh fruit, and red pigment for making tikka on the practitioners’ foreheads. 

The first part of the celebration is the chanting/singing of a summary of the epic, and the family and friends follow the leader in this call-and-response litany. A large platter with all the offerings to the icons in the small temple or prayer center is prepared and intended for the Diwali Gods and Goddesses (those who are mentioned in the Ramayana). The terracotta lamps are filled with mustard oil and small cotton wicks, and lit. Then each participant receives a new bracelet from the red silk thread, a tikka on their forehead, and goes up to the temple to sweep their hands over the incense and toward their heads, to “take in” the sacred smoke. Once the pooja is complete, we distribute the lamps to each room in the house and then enjoy the fruits and sweets from the big platter. 

There are many ways to celebrate Diwali, and each region and each family have their own traditions. Ask your Indian and Hindu friends how they celebrate to learn more! 

~ Rebekah Troxler Dhand and Evalyn

LOVING DAY

Loving Day, celebrated June 12, is an important day to my family. It is observed by many Americans who stand up for racial justice. During my childhood, it was a painful experience to find out that some friends and family were not considered legally married because many states did not recognize their interracial unions. Mildred and Richard Loving helped change these hurtful laws. They appealed their case to the Supreme Court, which overturned miscegenation laws in the United States. My husband and I light our chalice to honor “the inherent worth and dignity of all people” as we remember the Lovings.

                                                                                                — submitted by K.B.