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By Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh


Much like in India and around the world wherever Indian Diaspora have set down roots and made their new home, Diwali, the great Indian Festival of Lights, celebrations have taken on more international and regional flavor in recent years. There is the usual distinct sense of nostalgia and the unusual realization of the increasing recognition of Diwali as a major cultural and religious holiday, much like Hanukkah (the Jewish Festival of Light), Kwanza (inspired by African traditions), Eid (the Muslim sacred holiday) and Christmas, the major global religious holiday.

Diwali has found friends in high places: Diwali celebration at The White House, in City Halls, State Capitols, and civic and diplomatic functions. Efforts are underway to have a special stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office to recognize Diwali as a major component of the changing and emerging cultural and spiritual landscape of the U.S.

Over the past 42 years that I have been in the U.S., the annual Diwali gatherings have gone through a gradual and significant transition. From very modest bring-a-dish casual affair, to gatherings in private homes or classrooms at local colleges of early days, Diwali celebrations have grown to elaborate colorful show-and-tells in major hotel ballrooms with delicious sit-down dinners followed by entertainment by local talents and special guests. Big cities, like New York and on the West coast, have been organizing huge and colorful Diwali Melas, outdoor bazaars, and festive enactments to bring home a little of the Indian cultural experiences and spirit to serve their large Indian American populations and others interested to learn about this great and ancient holiday tradition. Today the festival of Diwali is firmly transplanted in community cultural calendars, attracts a fair amount of media attention, and many non-Asian Americans to its annual celebrations.

As the Indian community has grown in Indiana and throughout the country, many unique regional elements, expressions, and traditional inspirations, and personal experiences and memories of events back home in India, and needed adaptations reflective of the time and place have made Diwali a multi-faceted, multi-textured, and multi-cultural affair.

This year in Indianapolis on Saturday, October 21, the actual Diwali day, there was a cultural function and Puja (religious service), food and fireworks at the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana. At the Sikh Satsang (congregation) of Indianapolis, a special worship service, deepmala (lighting of traditional earthen lamps), and fireworks, sweets and Langar (community meal) commemorating the safe triumphant return in 1620 to Amritsar on Diwali day of Guru Hargobind Sahib, the sixth Sikh Guru, after a long imprisonment in the Gawaliar Fort by Emperor Jahangir, was celebrated. This year’s Diwali was celebrated with tremendous excitement at The Sikh Temple by over 350 people


There were many family style gatherings of friends and families where the day was marked by sharing of meals, exchange of gifts, and other special talents and activities that guests brought to the feast. The growing community offers many dimensions and several regional celebrations (Gujarati, Punjabi, South Indian), from strictly religious to fun festivities and reliving and recreating traditional and favorite family or community rituals and introducing them to new generations growing up in America. It is a matter of increasing pride and privilege as we preserve our culture and remember their rightful place in our life and spirit and integrating them into international cultural celebrations.

Then there are people like me, who having been deeply involved in early formation and personal witness to the transformation of Indian community in central Indiana, who have not attended Diwali functions since 1984, the year that brought much pain to the Indian community and the Sikhs around the world. For me and my family, Diwali was another day to reflect on: my journey that began in Jaranwala (District Lyallpur) before the Partition of India; my beloved family in India and up-bringing under the guidance of a very enlightened father. I paused to thank Waheguru (Wonderful Lord) for my unimagined blessings as an American and for the many fond and beautiful memories of Diwali, other festivals as we were growing up in India and settling in Indiana that enrich my soul and remind me of my cultural connections and proud heritage.

Instead of four or five families from the Indian subcontinent in 1967, now there are nearly 5,000 families in central Indiana, two Sikh Gurdwaras, a Hindu Temple, an India Community Center, and over a dozen Indian restaurants. There are grocery, ready-made garment, music and jewelry stores, and any thing that one may need for making Diwali and other festivals fun, culturally complete, and special. With over two million immigrants from the Indian subcontinent now in the U.S., we have no doubt that Durga Puja, Diwali, Holi, and Baisakhi will find their own place among the major American ethnic holidays, a place in our schools, civic life, and calendar, and especially as a major commercial enterprise in the years to come. Just imagine that!

A very Happy Diwali (Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist holy day), Eid Mubarak (Muslim holy day), a Blessed and Glorious Bandi Chhor Divas (Sikh holy day) and to all people everywhere under God's mighty heavens. May each faith, family, and community find much to celebrate and hope for as we go forward from these happy celebrations into the coming and shared holiday season of many faiths and cultures.

May these ethnic, cultural, and religious celebrations continue to bring humanity closer in spirit to learn about the many common cultural and historic threads and themes that connect us one to the other; inspire each of us to honor and integrate the true lessons of these commemorations into our times, our lives, and our journey.

Kanwal Prakash “KP” Singh
Indianapolis, Indiana USA