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South Bay Indians Celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Lights

Hindus prepare for traditional days, with bright lights, lots of sweets, prayer and the opportunity to connect with one's culture, friends and family.

Editor's note: This post is an aggregation of previous Diwali articles written by Mountain View resident Sonia Pallavi and Cupertino resident Chitra Rakesh.

Diwali, also called Deepavali or the "Festival of lights," is one of India’s most beloved holidays.

"As a child I looked forward to this day, or rather, the days in which Diwali was most joyously celebrated," said Sonia Pallavi. So what makes Diwali special?

Diwali can fall on the same or different day every year depending on many factors but the festival itself dates back to ancient times. As popular legend has it, the festival began to commemorate the return of Rama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu and the eldest son of King Dasharath of Ayodhya, along with wife, Sita, and brother, Lakshman, from a 14-year-long exile, after killing Ravana, a demon king.

The festival gets its name from the Sanskrit word, Dīpāvali, which means row of lamps. It is synonymous with renewed hope, fresh starts, happiness and togetherness. People celebrate by offering prayers to Lord Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi, exchanging sweets and presents and lighting lamps, candles and even fireworks.

"People enjoy cooking and eating elaborate meals, the best parts of which of course are the too, too sweet confections and the salty and savory snacks!" said Pallavi.

There are many rituals, ceremonies and prayers all over India and each region has its own meaning associated with the holiday. The stories and rituals are as varied and deep as the cultures that celebrate it and thousands of years of history and folklore have contributed to the variety.

"No matter wherever we are in the world, we try to maintain our Indian traditions and follow the same rituals that we would have had, had we been in India," said Vijay Raghunathan, a Mountain View resident and Taj Group of Hotels' employee. 

The final day of the celebration is often the loudest, brightest and sweetest, with many ceremonies, dinners, firecrackers and celebrations. In India, children and adults alike collect firecrackers for weeks beforehand and light them during the festival. The country explodes with songs and dancing out in the streets. The din of the music and firecrakers is unlike anything else you’ve heard, and it is uninhibited fun. These are the moments Indians savor and share with their communities. However, there is little to this celebration that the fire marshall's would consider safe!

Most folks in Silicon Valley started gearing up for the big day about a week ago. Indian stores stocked up on sweets, lamps and sparklers. Restaurants are crowded. People make last-minute buys and plan parties to attend.

Every year Diwali celebrations present an opportunity to educate oneself about Indian culture. The meaning of this holiday has extended past my initial childhood wonder and matured into a deeper understanding of the religious and cultural significance of the holiday.

"On this auspicious day, we are going to start with doing puja [prayer] and thanking the gods for everything," said Amit Agarwal, a Google employee. "We'll wish our near and dear ones, and finally end the night by playing poker to continue with the Diwali tradition of playing cards, so that Lakshmiji [Goddess of Wealth] can bestow us with good will."

This Diwali promises to be filled with festivities. After decorating their homes, and offering the customary prayers, residents feast on delicacies, dress up in ethnic attires, plan night-outs and dance parties with friends, games and activities, rounds of Texas Hold'em, and perhaps a few vodka shots to end the night, or rather to mark a new beginning.

Raking in some cash and building up on the sweet quotient seems to top everyone's list.

"I think all Indian celebration has to be with poker and sweets," said Kumar Saurabh, co-founder, of a stealth mode start-up. "We'll also be calling back friends and family."

For the most part, Diwali, the festival of lights, is for the Indian community in Mountain View a way to stay connected to their homeland and traditions.

"We're planning on decorating our house, doing puja [prayer], and lighting some firecrackers with our daughter," said Ruchi Tayal, Mountain View resident and a full-time mom. "There's not much to do here—I am really missing India."

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