Desi festivals in the US: The beckoning of a distant home

Contributed by: Sukanya Dasgupta

Festivals help us to connect to our roots, it's a time for togetherness, for being with our loved ones and includes a hint of an endless longing to 'be home'. Enjoying the sounds of music and laughter, scent of meticulously home-cooked meals, gorgeous colors of new clothes and countless gifts, the thrill of dancing and hours spent chatting and never forgetting to smile; for a moment you might think that life couldn't be any better!

The major festivals in India encompass celebrations that really cannot be recreated anywhere else, the lamps and diyas placed everywhere, the firecrackers during Diwali; and during Holi, the innumerable colors and dragging unwilling people out of their houses and drench them with a bucket of water, the throwing of colors; Eid-ul-Fitr, the day that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan; the enormous dandiya events during Navratri, 10 days of celebration during Durga Puja in Bengal, and the 10 days of festivities of Ganesh Chaturthi in Maharashtra.

Far away from home, the Indian diaspora in the US keeps in touch with their roots and celebrate the festivals with equal fervor and zeal, as distance can never diminish the euphoria!

The spirit of luminous Diwali

The entire world dazzles in the light of thousands of diyas during this festival. As the sparkling lanterns and colorful rangolis take pride in embellishing the households, sweets and delicious meals are served and gifts are exchanged, firecrakers light up the skies and of course, the souls. Celebrated by the Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, the festival actually involves offering prayers to the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Diwali also marks the beginning of a new year for the Hindus. Diwali celebrates the conquest of good over evil, and light over darkness as well as wisdom over ignorance. Apart from the mythological explanation, what the festival of lights really signifies today is a re-affirmation of optimism, a renewed promise of friendship and benevolence, and a religiously sanctioned festivity of the tiny joys of life.

Celebrated with equal fervor in the US States, Diwali echoes with the American ethos for pluralism. Emerging ethnic diversity of the Hindu religion and the Indians abroad provide opportunity for other cultures to rejoice. The festival is being brought to mainstream by the US President Barack Obama who celebrated the festival of lights at the White House since 2009, and in 2013 the Democrats and the Republicans celebrated Diwali for the first time on Capitol Hill, the essence of the festival just extended beyond merely another day in calendar!

Joyous Eid-ul-Fitr

The holy day of Eid, a day of happiness, prayers at mosques and feasting marks the end of holy month of Ramzaan, during which the Muslims observe a month-long fast from sunrise to sundown. The day is of utter significance to the Muslims, prayer for forgiveness of sins, a time for new clothes, exchanging greetings and gifts, feasting on the special delicacies and the essential lunar sighting.

Muslims residing in the US celebrate Eid with equal enthusiasm and offer the prayers in the conventions centers, mosques and in those places where followers can gather in large numbers. For instance, in New York, the prayers are offered at a public place and at down town Houston, prayers are organized at George Brown Convention Center.

The vibrant hues of Holi

The riot of colors, craziness and hours of fun, with people shedding their inhibitions and splashing colors on each other, Holi marks the beginning of spring. Holi witnesses the offering of prayers and sharing the camaraderie with a little hint of mischief.

While the Indian-Americans celebrate the spring festival with a lot of enthusiasm, the playful celebration of Holi has gained ground in the US even among the non-Hindus. At Spanish Fork, Utah, the Holi celebration is one of the special events with the participation of thousands of people. The festival has an admission fee of $3 and an official countdown to kick off the throwing of colors. In Houston, Texas, the theme was 'Green Holi' and thousands had gathered to celebrate it using the non-toxic colors. Austin, Texas celebrates in traditional 'Braj' way while Indians of Greater Washington area gather during the weekend, and New York celebrates the event at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

The vivacity of Onam

In Kerala, Onam is almost like a season. There is an rush adrenaline with snake boat races and tug-of-wars. In the streets, one can hear the drums beating and folk dances. Early in the morning, people make flower carpets in front of their homes and start preparing a magnificent feast, Ona Sadya, a lavish 5-course meal served on a fresh banana leaf, and it brings out the true taste of the Malayali kitchen. The entire house is filled with pleasant aroma of spices and coconut oil.

It would be incorrect to say that the charm of this festival exists only in Kerala. Malyalees in the US celebrate Onam with grandeur, screenings of movies, Kathakali and Mohiniyattam recitals are comprised among the many attractions. Indians residing in Detroit, Boston, Austin, Chicago celebrate Kerala's ancient rice harvest festivals in a traditional manner.

Colorful Durga Puja

The most popular festival of Bengal, Durga Puja celebrates the triumph of the divinity over the evil and demonic forces. A five-day autumnal festivity of frolic, rituals and worship of the idol of Goddess Durga and her family. Bengalis all across the world during these 5 days of celebrations exult to their heart's content, by reconnecting with friends and family. Durga Puja is actually an occasion when the familiar beats of Dhak, offerings of Anjali, Dhunuchi nachh, evening prayers called Aarti, the mild aroma of Shiuli, offers a familiar tug to each and every Bengali heart, with the festival coming to an end at Bijaya Dashami when the idols are immersed.

Bengalis residing in the US have always dreamt of puja and have been celebrating with equal zeal, simply to bring home the flavor of puja. Puja is conducted on the actual dates and also weekends. Bengali associations of San Francisco, New Jersey, Connecticut, San Diego, Iowa, Dallas and New York have rendered the spiritual event to a social-cultural affair. The celebrations are dotted with several cultural activities, which encompass songs, dances, art competition and quiz with a unique focus on children.


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