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Happy Diwali to everyone who celebrates!

From Darkness to Light.

Indians around the world and right here in Evanston celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali today and for the next four days.

I asked a few Evanston residents what it means to them.

(This is a repost from November 7, 2018)

So, what is Diwali?

Evanston resident Geeta Maker-Clark explains:

Geeta Maker-Clark and Anu Dewan

Diwali celebrates the symbolic victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and good over evil.

Mythically, it's believed that Diwali marks the homecoming of the illustrious King Rama, who returned after defeating the evil Ravana in a battle that lasted 14 years. When Rama and his wife Sita return to their home, their path is lit with diyas (candles) by the community to shine their path back home. So Diwali personifies moving from darkness to light!

Celebrated all over India and the world, Diwali is also the festival of wealth and prosperity. We give expression to our happiness by lighting diyas, decorating houses, setting off firecrackers, and inviting loved community to our households for feasting. We also pray to the goddess Lakshmi for continued abundance in all its forms.

How do Evanstonians celebrate, and what are some of their favorite memories? "As a child, I was always in awe of how much fun it was in India to celebrate, compared to here, where no one even knew or acknowledged this day," says Geeta, who is the coordinator of Integrative Medical Education at The University of Chicago.

"In India, it is a true festival of joy! Lights, dressing up in colors, hugs, food! So, now that I have a family of my own, we do everything we can to make this time special, to make sure our kids feel seen and proud of their traditions, even if we are the only ones celebrating.

We make rangoli on the porch [an art form, originating in India, in which patterns are created on the ground using colored rice, dry flour, colored sand, or flower petals], eat sweets, make yummy food, invite over our family, have Diwali crafts at the school, and exchange presents and cards.

Today more than ever, it is a time to celebrate our victories, however small or large. Light will always prevail over darkness!"

To Anu Dewan, a consultant in elementary education for Chicago Public Schools, Diwali means taking the time to look at things with an open heart.

"It means consciously allowing love and light to guide my actions, my words, and my thoughts. We have taught our kids that Diwali is a time of reflection of good over evil," she says. "How do we make the choices we do? Are we choosing the good choice? Are we being positive? And, if not, to search for that path of light that will bring us there."

Parul Gupta, who emigrated with her parents from India to the US in 1975, has vivid memories of celebrating the holiday as a child.

"My memories likely differ from that of other Hindu Americans. Since we had no other relatives close by, we bonded with the families of other Indian immigrant families, likely also resident physicians who came with the wave at that time," says Parul, an obstetrician/ gynecologist at Lake Shore Obstetrics and gynecology and Clinical Instructor at Northwestern University College of Medicine.

"They represented the diaspora and were Punjabi, Bengali, Sikh, Sindhi and South Indian. Some were Muslim, some were Pakistani. For that reason, Diwali celebrations were more of a social gathering rather than religious. In those days there wasn’t a temple or community gathering place to host us, so we’d collect in someone’s apartment dressed in our finest Indian clothing.

"I still recall seeing my mother in her sari and jewels and being in awe of her finery. The scent of incense would waft through the air from the altar in the corner that was sent up for the occasion with a statue or picture of Ganesh and diyas, or candles, lit for this festival of light.

"Someone would perform a small Puja or prayer service, and we’d all perform Aarti with our families where we’d hold the tray with the candle together and circle it around the altar three times as the whole group would sing the hymns. We’d then eat tons of Indian vegetarian food and sweets.

"Women would gather in one room, often the kitchen and the men would gather in another. We kids would run around without supervision collecting some of our best childhood memories. We’d stay until very late, often dozing off to sleep while the adults played cards, smoked cigarettes and gossiped.

"This community remains tight to this day despite deaths, marriages and distance. This year, our South Asian Women of Evanston group, formed a year ago, will be holding our first Diwali party next week and I hope that my children can benefit from the sense of community and shared history that I had growing up."

Rahul Sharma, Founder, Strategic Inclusion Consulting LLC and founder also of the diverse, inclusive and FUNKY band Funkadesi -- and Anu Dewan's husband --says, "To me, Diwali is simply recognizing the light - the STAR - in each of us."

PS: The amazing Funkadesi will be celebrating the band's 25th anniversary on December 3 at Epiphany Center for the Arts in the West Loop. Find our more and get your tix here.


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