scorecardDiwali is becoming a global celebration and cementing Indian identity globally
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Diwali is becoming a global celebration and cementing Indian identity globally

Diwali is becoming a global celebration and cementing Indian identity globally
IndiaIndia4 min read
  • Diwali is a popular south Asian festival tracing its origin back to 2,500 years, signifying ‘victory of good over evil’.
  • New York Mayor Eric Adams declared Diwali will be a public holiday in the city starting 2023.
  • Growing popular cultural references of Diwali are a reflection of the increasing importance of Indians in global cinema and politics.
Indian immigration to the United States began in the 19th century but it was only in 2009 when the first Diwali diya was lit in the Oval office by the then US President Barack Obama. Since then, the festival of lights is fast becoming mainstream in countries like the US with depictions on popular shows.

Immigration brings with it unique customs and traditions of a country and Diwali, the festival of lights, is one of them, tracing its origin 2,500 years back. Sparkling crackers, the chaos of family get-togethers and the fervour over competing Rangolis – all form part of Diwali celebrations.

“When Michelle and I visited India, we were able to join in the Diwali festivities with some wonderful children in Mumbai. It was a reminder of the traditions we share, across continents and cultures,” said Obama, referring to the official visit the couple made in India during 2015.

Diwali is not only celebrated in India but is an important south Asian festival celebrated in Indonesia, Malaysia, Fiji, Nepal, Guyana, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Mauritius. The origin stories may be different but all signify victory of good over evil, light over darkness.

In the US, the Hindu American Foundation has been leading efforts to popularise Indian culture and festivals. It has led efforts to identify October as the Hindu Heritage Month – due to the birth of Mahatma Gandhi and is often the month when the festivals of Navratri and Diwali are celebrated.

The ‘state’ of Diwali parties in the US

The mainstreaming of key Indian festivals like Diwali and Dussehra (the tenth day of Navratri) is a reflection of the growing clout of Indian Americans in the US. Today, over 130 Indian-Americans hold key positions in the administration of US President Joe Biden.

In America alone there are 40 lakh Indian origin citizens, who have contributed vastly to the American economy by being top doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs.

President Biden has plans for a Diwali party in the White House on October 24 with US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband. Former US President Donald Trump will also be celebrating Diwali at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida today.

The Secretary of State Tony Blinken is hosting another Diwali party at the State Department with the diplomatic community on October 26.

On Friday, New York Mayor Eric Adams declared Diwali will be a public holiday in the city schools starting 2023.

“This is an educational moment because when we acknowledge Diwali, we are going to encourage children to learn about Diwali. We're going to have them start talking about what it is to celebrate the festival of lights, and how to turn the light on within yourself,” Adams said.

The 11th Grand International Diwali-Dussehra Festival was celebrated in Houston on October 17, attracting 10,000 people. It also involved consul generals of 15 countries in the Dussehra parade. With November elections approaching in the US, candidates like Bete O'Rourke could also be spotted at the parade. Statues of Ram, Hanuman, Kumbhakaran, Meghnad and Ravan could also be seen.

The US also introduced a bill in the parliament last year, proposing how Diwali should be considered a public holiday. In Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the Cedar Hills School today and made small clay Diyas with children ahead of Diwali.

Growing pop culture references, ‘lit Diwali’ parties

The increasing brightness of Diwali across the globe is also due to the rise of Indo-American diaspora and mentions across pop culture. Diwali parties across Los Angeles have been a way of vocalising the presence of Indian colours and customs.

Actress Priyanka Chopra with husband Nick Jonas also threw a party in Los Angeles celebrating Indian traditions.

“My beautiful wife has introduced me to so many wonderful Indian holidays and traditions. My heart is so full to be able to share this with our friends and family,” said Nick Jonas.

Last year, Youtuber Lilly Singh hosted a grand diwali party, which was attended by the who’s who of the Indian-American film community – Mindy Kaling, Tyra Banks, Tesher, Kunal Nayyar, Poorna Jagannathan, Deepika Mutyala, Radhi Devluka-Shetty, Indira Varma, Meena Harris and Kal Penn to name a few.

In 2019, Indian actor Kunal Nayyar who played Indian nerd Raj in Big Bang Theory announced his comeback to Instagram with celebrations of Diwali in India.

American comic Mindy Kaling’s Diwali party in L.A last year celebrated the achievements of South Asian women. Kaling’s Diwali party for her The Office staff inspired the episode “Diwali” which aired in 2006. The episode even featured Steve Carell singing “The Diwali song” and calling it “The Hindu Halloween”.

Not just The Office, there are depictions of Diwali in And Just Like That – a reboot of American drama series Sex and the City – where Sarah Jessica Parker dons a sari and goes Diwali shopping with her realtor turned friend Seema. Despite criticisms of cultural appropriation that the episode attracted, the popularity and reach of the show meant that ultimately it was a victory for the festival of lights.

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