Diwali, the most widely celebrated holiday in India, can be literally translated into the Festival of Lights, and it marks the celebration of the new year in the Hindu tradition.
Raj Miniyar and his wife Sheetal opened their home, which is located off Chulio Road, to guests from not only the Hindu religion but also Sikhs and Muslims to celebrate the holiday. The local pediatrician entertained guests from all across Northwest Georgia and even Tennessee.
“Historically, we don’t know the origin of when it started,” Miniyar explained of Diwali. “It’s been always there, thousands of years ago. That’s when the new year starts for the Hindus and the traditional Indians.”
But the holiday is much more than a celebration of the new year, he explained. It’s also religiously significant throughout Eastern traditions.
“The Lord Ram, which is one of the central figures in Hinduism, came back to his kingdom on the day of Diwali, after he was in exile for 12 years,” he said. “So when he returned, people lit lamps all over the kingdom to welcome him and that’s how this tradition started, some 10,000 years ago.”
India, he said, is vast in its different, local religious celebrations, and different regions recognize their own traditions. However, everyone celebrates Diwali, regardless of his or her religious background.
“It started as more of a Hindu religious festival, but now, in modern India, or the modern world, it’s more like a cultural, social program which involves all people from different walks of life,” Miniyar said.
It’s the time of year when friends and family unite in fellowship and exchange sweets and snacks. Culturally significant dances are performed throughout the evening, gifts are exchanged, and by midnight there is a huge feast.
Miniyar said that in India, many new companies and businesses open on the day of Diwali, because it’s considered good luck. That aspect recognizes Ganesh, the Hindu God of auspicious beginnings. Even films are also often debuted on Diwali, usually earning great box office success.
Diwali, he said, largely symbolizes darkness being replaced by light and good triumphing over evil.
Miniyar said he has been hosting Diwali celebrations for a decade, but this is his second time hosting it in Rome.
“I originally came from New York to Dalton, and there was no celebration of Diwali,” he said. “We have a good-sized Indian community in Northwest Georgia. … There’s a vibrant, fast-growing, proficient Indian community, but nobody wanted to bring them together. So I decided to start a celebration ten years ago.”
Gary Pathare came from Chattanooga to celebrate Diwali. He emphasized the warmth of getting together with family and friends and, of course, all the delectable food.
“There’s foods, sweets,” he said. “We light firecrackers in the evening on the road. It’s a pretty big event.”
Prasad Paranjape, also of Chattanooga, said Diwali lasts for four days, and each day has a specific significance. The first marks the return of the legendary Hindu king from his time in exile, and the second honors the Goddess Lakshmi Puja, the goddess of wealth and luxury. The third day honors the bond between spouses; husbands give their wives gifts and wives ask for long lives for their husbands. The fourth days celebrates the bond between brothers and sisters, with brothers being invited to their sisters’ homes where they exchange gifts and share a feast.
“This is the biggest festival, and this is one of the very few festivals which is celebrated all across India from the north-most point to the south-most state,” Paranjape emphasized. “Local festivals might not be present in all the states, but this one is. Families get together, there is good food all around, there’s fireworks. The gist of Diwali is it’s a celebration of light.”
Miniyar noted how other religious traditions, such as Passover, Hanukkah, Christmas, and the Islamic holiday Eid seem to fall near the same time of the year.
“It’s a joyous time of the year and it’s interesting because it more or less coincides with the holiday season in the West,” Miniyar said. “It’s cool to see all of these religious events falling really close to each other. That’s a neat thing.”