Personal musings. Views are my own.

Diwali: joy, hope, and justice

For some years now, I’ve been wanting to rethink Diwali in a way that celebrates the holiday as an expression of my wishes and hopes for a new year. In a conversation about pujas and Hindu ritual this week, a friend said to me “personally, the best prayers are those that are from the heart.” Her words inspired me to let go of my longing for finding connection in rituals that I don’t understand to create an expression of ritual that is meaningful to me. I still appreciate that many Hindu rituals have been performed for a long time by people all over the world, there’s something powerful about sharing in a common consciousness through shared ritual. But this year, I thought I’d take some of the information and perspectives shared with me over the past several years to think about what a celebration of Diwali would be like that fully resonated with me.

I like the perspective that Diwali is a celebration of joy and hope that comes from the culmination of a struggle towards justice, and I’ve thought about how many of the rituals that are done on Diwali can connect to this theme. But in general, I’d like to keep in mind what I’m thankful for as I celebrate this holiday. I’m thankful for the pluralism of Hinduism, that there’s no one way to celebrate Diwali, that whatever way we choose to celebrate from our hearts is exactly the right way for us. I’m also thankful for joining in a day that’s celebrated by many Sikh, Jains, Buddhist and Muslims communities for different reasons, just like we all have different struggles towards justice, and we all fight for justice differently.

Light a lamp

I like the idea of a diya illuminating our world, and dispelling darkness. This year, I want to light a diya with the following question as my intention: what do I want eliminated from my life and the world? I’d like to dispel the darkness that: perpetuates oppression in our relationships, families, communities, societies and institutions; hides the historical trauma of partition, systemic violence and criminalization of our communities; and that separates us from allying with each other’s struggles.


Likewise with rangoli, I’d like to decorate the entrance to my house while asking: what do I want more of in my life? If rangoli is meant to welcome people and intentions with great honor, I’d like to welcome love and compassion for ourselves and our communities, and strength to stand against and fight against all oppressions.

Pray to Lord Lakshmi

Prayers to Lord Lakshmi are often a part of Diwali in hopes for abundance in the new year. Much of the way I’ve heard people think about this is through material abundance, and I’m lucky enough to have all the material wealth I really need in my life. But even if I didn’t, I would want to push beyond a consumerist desire to accumulate wealth. This year, I’d like to pray for prosperity for all, a fair distribution of wealth in our world, and for an abundance of health, happiness, joy, laughter and connection over the coming year.

Share sweets

I’d like to make healthy sweets to share with my loved ones this year, and share with the intention of wishing good health, happiness, joy, and laughter for others.

Light firecrackers

After the sun goes down, I’d like to light firecrackers to let our joy and hope for a better world be known. I’d like to take up space and be visible in my celebration of Diwali in a society that I tend to hide my Hindu identity in.

Make a donation

As part of wishing for abundance in the world, I’d like to share some of my own abundance with just causes that need my support today, like Marissa Alexander, Ferguson and We Charge Genocide.

That’s where my mind and heart is right now, and I hope for more growth in my thinking over the coming years. I may not be able to do all these things this year, but I’m not going to be hard on myself if I can’t. I’d like hold on to my thanks that whatever way I choose to celebrate is exactly the right way for me right now. Thanks to many friends who helped me arrive to this place this year, particularly the women-identified people in my life who shared their thinking and perspectives with compassion. Much of these perspectives grew from a conversation about Diwali at Occupy Wall Street a few years ago that a friend compiled and shared with me.