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4:07 pm
Sun November 3, 2013

Far From Diwali's Lights, The Warm Glow Of Home

Originally published on Mon November 4, 2013 8:42 am

Small flickering oil lamps known as diyas are lighting up Indian homes in South Asian communities around the globe on Sunday as hundreds of millions of people observe Diwali.

Otherwise known as the Festival of Lights, it's a religious celebration of self-awareness and reflection. Diwali is a public holiday in a number of other nations, but it's not nearly so well-known in the U.S., where families must rely on themselves to keep the tradition alive.

Nestled among old colonial homes in Haverford, Pa., the Shukla home is a vibrant display of light and colorful decoration. Inside the kitchen, it's a feast for the senses. For the Shuklas, Diwali ushers in a new year for self-reflection or, as they put it, finding the light within.

Celebrations begin with a ritual of prayer called Lakshmi Puja. Shoes off, seated on the floor, three generations of the Shukla family take part invoking the Hindu goddess Lakshmi to bring wealth, prosperity and peace to the home. The gathering then evolves into a retelling of centuries-old tales of Hindu gods battling between good and evil, symbolizing a person's struggle within.

As second-generation Indian-Americans, Suhag Shukla and her husband, Aseem, are keenly aware of how easy it is to lose touch with tradition. They say Diwali pulls their kids back from the distractions of western culture to remember a heritage that places heavy emphasis on devotion to others.

The ritual ends with a song, Hanuman Chalisa. Aseem Shukla says it captures the resilience of Hindus who, generations ago, left their homeland behind, but have never let go.

"That came with them on the boats, when they came as sugar cane workers, plantation workers," he says. "That was, like, the few things they had, so they sing this with a lot of passion."

But, at the end of the day in the Shukla home, Diwali represents the celebration of family.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ARUN RATH, HOST:

And speaking of light, small flickering oil lamps known as diyas are lighting up Indian homes in South Asian communities across the globe today. Millions of Hindus, Jains and Sikhs are observing Diwali, the festival of lights, celebrating the victory of good over evil or the light of knowledge destroying the darkness of ignorance.

Diwali is a big public holiday in a lot of countries, but it's a less-known story in the U.S. NPR's Lakshmi Singh spent some time with one American family committed to keeping the tradition alive.

LAKSHMI SINGH, BYLINE: Nestled among old colonial homes in Haverford, Pennsylvania, the Shukla home is a vibrant display of light and colorful decorations in celebration of Diwali. Inside the kitchen, it's a feast for the senses.

UNKNOWN: Paneer has a way of turning anything rich.

SINGH: For Aseem and Suhag Shukla's family, Diwali ushers in a new year for self-reflection, or as they put it, finding the light within.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHANTING)

SINGH: Celebrations begin with a ritual prayer called Lakshmi Puja.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAKSHMI PUJA RITUAL)

SINGH: Shoes off, seated on the floor, three generations of the Shukla family take part invoking the Hindu goddess Lakshmi to bring wealth, prosperity and peace to the home. The gathering then evolves into a retelling of centuries-old Diwali tales of Hindu gods battling between good and evil, symbolizing a person's struggle within.

SUHAG SHUKLA: Say you haven't studied for an exam. What do we generally do, right? We go, oh, God. Please help me, right?

SINGH: Suhag Shukla and her husband Aseem, second-generation Indian-Americans who are keenly aware of how easy it is to lose touch with tradition, say Diwali pulls their kids from the distractions of Western culture, even for a moment, to remember a heritage that places heavy emphasis on devotion to others.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANUMAN CHALISA")

SINGH: The ritual ends with "Hanuman Chalisa" that Aseem Shukla says is a song that captures the resilience of Hindus who generations ago left their homeland behind but have never really let go.

ASEEM SHUKLA: That came with them on the boats when they came as sugarcane workers, plantation workers. That was like the few things that they had, and so they sing this with a lot of passion.

SINGH: But at the end of the day, in the Shukla home, Diwali represents the celebration of family.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Foreign language spoken)

SINGH: I'm Lakshmi Singh, NPR News in Haverford.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANUMAN CHALISA")

RATH: This is NPR News Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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