Understanding the Significance of Diwali as a Representation of Indian Culture

The aim of this thesis is to understand the close relationship between the popular Hindu festival, Diwali and efforts being made by the global Indian diaspora to perpetuate their old country’s traditions and culture in a foreign land. It has to be understood here that Diwali is one of the most important religious occasions duringa Hindu calendar year.

In America, Indian Hindus have introduced their religious prayers, holidays and other rituals to Americans as a holistic representation of their culture, often in the face of resistance by local city councils and residents in several states who have prevented them from trying to build religious temples in a local environment (Torpey 45).

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Today, however, Diwali has gained mainstream acceptance and is increasingly celebrated all over the country, no longer being restricted to a pan-Indian activity.

Nevertheless, the “festival of lights” occurrence does indicate the best that Indian culture has to offer. In an immigrant context, Diwali is now celebrated by Indians in many different ways: from domestic rituals to large public events. Sweet-giving, here, is an important element of Diwali celebrations.

Against this backdrop, theresearch proposaltalks about the “culture of giving”that Hinduism shares with othermajor religious traditions common to different countries. In this way,I will make an attempt to understand the values of one of the most plural, tolerant religions in the world. The objective is to understand the finer aspects of Indian culture through the festive spirit of Diwali.

In order to further substantiatemy learning topic, I would look into a select few academic sources that investigate the close relationship between the festival of lights and the initiative of giving sweets which is a significant ritual during Diwali.

Torpie, Kate. Diwali. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2008. Print.

One of the key aspects of the Diwali tradition is the phenomena of exchanging sweets. The roots of this tradition can be sourced to India’s agricultural season in which farmers would celebrate the gathering of crops as harvest time comes to a close(Torpey 17).Kate Torpie points out that in rural India, holidays such as Diwali are a significant time for eating good quality food, especially for impoverished families (18).

This is an occasion for families to gather aroundthe table, making delicious meals for guests while friends and neighbours give a variety of tasty sweets to children and adults alike. On the second day of Diwali, guests arrive early for a traditional breakfast which mainly consists of traditional Indian sweets such as Motichoorladdoo, dried fruits, chocolate barfee, cashew barfee, gulabjamun, coconut barfee and more (23).

Torpie’sanalysis is significant for my research as it would help me decipher the complex cultural metaphors unique to India’s traditional family environment.

Plum-Ucci, Carol. Celebrate Diwali. New York: Associated Press, 2005. Print.

According to Carol Plum-Ucci, the custom of exchanging sweets for a family, symbolizes the prosperity for which the festival is celebratedeach year (54). To mark the occasion of prosperity, sweets contribute to generating a feel-good factor.

Plum-Ucci’s research draws on some of the pivotal themes surrounding Hinduism’s cultural motifs that come into display during Diwali: for example, the females in the household place sweets on shiny, silver trays and garnish the dishes with candle-lights called diyas and sometimes, jewels and flower petals (55).

The display of Diwali sweets in decorated trays suggests the values of hospitality common to South Asian cultures. Basically, Plum-Ucci supports my argument that Hinduism is a generous, welcoming and hospitable culture, not indistinct from other hospitable cultures that dot America, e.g. Jewish-American, Southern and Texas.

Ganeshram, Ramin, and Vellotti, Jean-Paul. Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2006. Print.

With the presence of Indian diaspora worldwide, the festival of Diwali has spread outward from its national borders to different countries. To look into this phenomenon, I will describe the seamless adaptation of India’s Diwali traditions to these different cultural environments.

Ganeshram, Ramin and Vellohave affirmed that in the Caribbean island of Trinidad, which has a sizeable Hindu population, the significance of giving Diwali sweets assumes a local flavor as these lands are rich in sugarcane fields, the use of sugar prominently featuring in Trinidadian cuisine (135). The research by Ganeshra, Ramin and Velloti would help me understand the adaptability of Hindu traditions in the Caribbean which has a significant Indian population.

Shah, Manju N. “Celebrating Diwali in America” Journal of South Asian Literature 30.1 (1995): 41-50. Print.

Similarly, Manju N. Shah suggests that Diwali celebrated in the United States, seamlessly blends with the local tradition of Halloween, assuming a “trick or treat” proportion familiar to children in this part of the world (“Celebrating Diwali in America” 43).

At a time when Indians had to greatly abbreviate their domestic traditions in keeping with the local sensibilities of America (e.g. local city ordinances preventing them from lighting clay candles called diyas), blending in with mainstream American values like Halloween shows the adaptable nature of Hinduism. Manju N. Shah’s article would allow me to gain perspective of this adaptability.

Richman, Paula. “A Diaspora Ramayana in Southall, Greater London.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67.1 (1999): 21-30. Print.

Finally, in Southall, London, UK, which is also known as mini-India, the festival of Diwali assumes a noisy, colorful character, presenting itself as a welcome surprise to the drab cultural norms of Britain. This phenomenon has been studied in detail by Paula Richman who notes the close similiarity between the sweet-giving tradition common to Hinduism, signifying charity and kindness, and British values (“A Diaspora Ramayana in Southall, Greater London”, 67/1).

Paula’s article would help me prepare this thesis from a UK/European perspective.

Works Cited

Ganeshram, Ramin, and Vellotti, Jean-Paul. Sweet Hands: Island Cooking from Trinidad & Tobago. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2006. Print.

Plum-Ucci, Carol. Celebrate Diwali. New York: Associated Press, 2005. Print.

Richman, Paula. “A Diaspora Ramayana in Southall, Greater London.” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 67.1 (1999): 21-30. Print.

Shah, Manju N. “Celebrating Diwali in America” Journal of South Asian Literature 30.1 (1995): 41-50. Print.

Torpie, Kate. Diwali. New York: Crabtree Publishing Company, 2008. Print.