Passing the traditions of Diwali on to my daughter
- Posted on November 2, 2021
- Estimated reading time 5 minutes
A few years ago, when I was still in India, my daughter Riya, who was only 5 years old at that time, declared, “Diwali is horribly boring!”
This statement made me very sad. I had especially moved back from the U.K. to inculcate a love for the Indian culture, and I felt that I had failed as a parent. I began questioning myself: What made Diwali – the largest and the most awaited Indian festival? Why did I feel so excited about Diwali? Also, what was the true meaning behind any festival?
So, I took upon myself to inspire her to love Indian culture. In this pursuit, I started telling her mythological stories as I wanted her to understand the significance of Diwali.
“Riya, as you may know – Diwali is celebrated over five days. Our first day is called ‘Dhanteras.’ Dhan means wealth and teras means the 13th day of the lunar fortnight, per the Hindu calendar. It marks the beginning of Diwali and people buy gold, utensils, sweets and food on this day. They worship Lord Kubera who was not a God but the richest person of those days just like Bill Gates. As per the folklore, Kubera travelled in his ancient airplane ‘Puspak Vimaan’ and dropped pearls and gold over the cities as he flew and hence people started worshipping him like a God. He is called the guardian of the universe’s wealth and assets. Therefore, people buy gold and fill their utensils with food, praying that he will continue to protect their wealth.”
My daughter’s reaction to this was, “Mum, do you know the first aeroplane was made by the Wright brothers?”
I said, “Hmmm……”
“Riya, our second day is called ‘Choti Diwali’ (Choti mean small) also known as Narak Chaturdashi. As per mythology on this day Lord Krishna had defeated the demon Naraksura. Naraksura was a greedy man and had captured more than 16,000 girls, but on this day Lord Krishna saved them all and killed him. He ensured that the girls were not rejected by the society and given their due respect by marrying all of them. Narak means hell and on this day, people pray to Goddess Kali to help them get rid of the evil spirits, negative forces and cleanse them of their sins. They also pray to the God of Death – Yama so that there is no premature death in the family and their ancestors’ souls are left in peace. “
My daughter said thoughtfully, “Wow! Lord Krishna married all the girls?”
I said,” Hmmmmm………”
“Riya, the third day is ‘Diwali or Deepawali’ – Deep means earthen lamps and hence this is the festival of lights. It’s celebrated on the 20th day after Vijayadashami (the day Lord Rama defeated Demon Ravan in Sri Lanka). It is said that Rama came back to his hometown on this day and people celebrated his victory with fireworks, rangolis and sharing sweets and presents. Hence, this is the day that symbolizes ‘victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance.’ Diwali falls on the night of New Moon Day. Even though the night is dark, people make it bright by lighting hundreds of Diyas (earthen lamps) in line and they offer a large Diya with lights in all the four directions to Goddess Laxmi (Goddess of wealth) so that their life is filled with light from all directions. It is believed that Goddess Laxmi comes to earth that day and blesses those who light Diyas on this dark night, worship her from heart and keep their houses very clean. She walks through the green fields and showers her blessings on people in abundance and blesses them with prosperity as well. This is the day when people pray, exchange gifts and spend time with their extended family and friends.”
This is my daughter’s favorite day as she gets to open a lot of presents and eat sweets. But she said gloomily, “Mum, will Goddess Laxmi not visit Kajal’s house?” (Kajal was our house help in India.)
I asked, “Why?”
Riya exclaimed, “She is poor and can’t buy food for the prayers!”
My reaction was, “Hmmmmmmm…”
“Dear daughter, the fourth day is called ‘Govardhan puja’ and per mythology, this was the day when the God Indra was upset with mankind, and he sent a deluge to submerge the city Gokul. However, Lord Krishna lifted the Govardhan Mountain on his little finger and held it like an umbrella, thereby saving the lives of people of Gokul. Hence, we celebrate this day!”
My daughter sighed, “How unfair! Why should God help us if we don’t take care of Earth?”
My husband and I both said, “Hmmmmmmmmmm…..”
“Riya, finally the fifth day is Bhai Dooj where Bhai means brother and Dooj means day. So, yes, it is Brothers Day! This is the day when sisters pray for the long life of their brothers and the brothers pledge to keep their sisters safe.”
I thought that my daughter will at least understand the context of this day but here she goes again, “But Mum, why do I need a boy to keep me safe, and why can’t I fight for myself?”
My parents, husband and I said, “Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm……….”
As you can all imagine, these where the questions even my mum could not answer for me, so when I had a daughter, I had decided I would never tell her these mythological stories. But without the stories, she thought Diwali was the most boring festival. Her statement shook me and made me question whether these age-old festivals are meaningful in the modern world. When I thought about it deeply, I realized that the real meaning behind it is the collective celebration of human virtues such as compassion, empathy and righteousness. In the context of modern nuclear family, it can bring extended families together and help in spending time to unwind and celebrate life, leaving behind a lot of happy memories that we cherish year after year.
With this enlightenment, it became easier for me to engage her interest and we continued celebrating Diwali with festive pageantry, visiting lots of people, exchanging gifts and eating delicious food with family – making memories.
Finally, after three years, last year, my daughter said to me, “I love Diwali – it’s full of stories, I get to eat delicious food and have fun with my family and friends. Diwali is like Christmas!”
And I said, “Isn’t that the meaning of all festivals? Different names but same meaning!”
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