Diversity Matters: Diwali

November 5, 2018  //  FOUND IN: Updates & Resources,

This week, many members of the organization are celebrating Diwali, the largest festival in India and an important holiday in Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism.

To better support patients, families and colleagues celebrating the holiday — which is also known as Deepavali in southern India — here’s what you may not know about the “Festival of Lights.”

Triumph of light over darkness

The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that people light outside their homes during the five day-long observance.

It celebrates the return of deities from wars that are found in religious texts — though the specific wars and dieties vary from one religious sect to another.

For instance, many Hindus associate the festival with Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Others mark the return of King Rama, while still others believe it celebrates the day that Lord Vishnu sent demon King Bali to the nether world. The historical significance of Diwali differs even more for Sikhs and Jains.

No matter which deities are celebrated, however, there are common themes that permeate the festivities.

“All those who celebrate are marking the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance,” said Nipa Khatlawala, a business analyst for Health Information Technology & Services. Khatlawala grew up in India, celebrates Diwali with her family at home and hosts an annual celebration with colleagues in HITS.

“We often light oil lamps, candles and fire crackers during the holiday, not only to symbolize light triumphing over darkness, but also to light the way for the deities to return safely,” Khatlawala said.

Nipa Khatlawala, third from left, with colleagues during the annual Diwali celebration.

Five days of traditions

Each day during Diwali holds a special significance, complete with unique rites and rituals.

The first day, which this year is celebrated today, Nov. 5, is known as Dhanteras, or the festival of wealth. It is followed on day two by Naraka Chaturdasi, when people carry out early morning rituals with oil, flowers and sandalwood.

The third day is Lakshmi Puja, when prayers are offered to goddess Lakshmi and other deities.

“Lakshmi Puja is typically the most recognized day of the festival,” Khatlawala said. “It’s when families most often get together for prayer and celebration.”

The final two days celebrate the love and bond between husband and wife, and then the love and bond between brothers and sisters.

A chance to reunite

Prior to the festivities, those who celebrate spend a lot of time cleaning and decorating their homes with patterns made from colored sand or flour called rangoli.

Then during the five-day celebration, sweet treats and savory dishes are prepared and enjoyed by the entire family.

Should a patient request specific food items during their stay at Michigan Medicine, consult with each individual’s registered dietitian nutritionist or a member of Spiritual Care to see what services can be offered.

Finally, gifts are often exchanged.

“Gifts, feasts and prayers are all designed to bring families closer together,” Khatlawala said. “It’s the perfect opportunity to reunite and just enjoy each other’s company. And that’s what makes it such a special time of year for all of us.”