Hopeful Lights in the Dark, Cold Winter: Hindus light the world for Diwali

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Ramu Nukala and his family are from Hyderabad, India, more than 8,000 miles away from Utah. Seven years ago, Ramu arrived in the Beehive State. And three years ago his wife, Nirmala, joined him. The couple and their son practice Hinduism devotedly. Fall and winter hold important religious festivals for Hindus, and the Nukalas look forward to these seasons with eager anticipation.

   Diwali is the most awaited festival, an auspicious holiday that rejoices in light prevailing over darkness. It comes from a Hindu myth, a story of Lord Krishna defeating the evil demon Narakasura. The day after the demon was defeated, the people celebrated this victory with a colorful, joyous festival.

   During the coldest, darkest season, the jubilant celebration of Diwali bursts with bright lights and unabashed happiness.

   It starts around the end of fall and the beginning of winter and is observed for one lunar month, with the first day called Diwali Day. The festival’s name literally means “row of lights” in Sanskrit. Also known as the festival of lights, illumination — both spiritual and physical — is the central focus of the traditions.

   “Light is significant for life,” Ramu says. “Light draws out the darkness.”

   Celebrating Diwali in Orem is a world away from celebrations back home. The Hindu community in Utah is less than 1 percent of the population. Luckily, Hindu temples in the area arrange for Hindus to enjoy fireworks, lights and celebration, which bring a happy taste of India.

   Ramu and Nirmala visit the Sri Ganesha Temple in South Jordan for a fuller Diwali experience, while they also follow traditional practices in their Orem home.

   Diwali Day starts off reverent. As a way of inviting spiritual enlightenment, they begin by waking up early and bathing, followed by participating in worship rituals to Krishna, the god of protection and compassion. The intention of these practices is to cultivate enlightenment and a heightened spiritual awareness. Meditation also adds peaceful balance to the mind and body.

   “The soul is eternal,” Ramu says. “We believe the soul is actually a very tiny light. You have to enlighten the soul.”

   Diyas, which are small, clay lamps with a cotton wick dipped in oil, glow inside and outside of homes, as well as on porches and windowsills. For the entire length of Diwali, candles are consistently burning. They are lit early in the morning before sunrise, signifying new life, and in the evening the lights drive away darkness. It’s also said that these candles invite the goddess of prosperity, Lakshmi, into your home to bring blessings.

   Orange and yellow layered marigolds sold in markets fill homes and line the streets as a favorite decoration. Flowers symbolize beauty, while simultaneously acting as an offering to Krishna.

   Neighbors and friends deliver sweets to each other, laughing and gathering. They spend as much time together as possible. Ramu and Nirmala smile as they talk of celebrating Diwali back home in India. A close community is crucial to a fulfilling celebration.

“It’s a fun, happy time,” Ramu says.

   In life and in festivals, family comes first. Certain rituals in their temples can’t be completed without the entire family. Seeing their children reach success brings them joy, like having their son recently obtain his master’s degree and acquire a good job in Alabama. Respectable values are passed from generation to generation. In Hinduism, togetherness is sacred and ethereal.

   “The purpose of life is to be as a family,” Ramu says. “Having kids, helping them grow, and helping them lead their life and start their family — that’s the whole purpose of our lives.”

   Dussehra, another prominent festival in India that celebrates good overcoming evil, precedes Diwali. Ramu says both festivals are equally important, but Diwali’s fireworks are the highlight. Each time Ramu and Nirmala mention fireworks, childlike smiles spread on their faces.

   “After Dussehra, we used to wait for 20 days, eagerly wondering when Diwali is going to arrive — we want the fireworks!” he chuckles. “Every Diwali, we used to buy the fireworks a few days before the festival and place them in the sunlight so they fire well on that day.”

   He remembers as a kid being agonized by fireworks just waiting to be lit.

   Whether it’s rising early to meditate in prayer, gathering together with neighbors and friends to watch explosive golds light the sky, or igniting tiny oil lamps, each is an effort to drive away the darkness and invite the light.

   This is Diwali.

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