What Diwali means to the second generation


Diwali, like many Indian holidays, is rich in diversity, complexity, and jubilation.  Celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, it has been the festival most associated with South Asian culture. As Diwali gains increasing recognition in the US, News India Times interviewed Indian American students about their experiences surrounding the holiday and all its festivities.

Ishaan Solanki, a senior at Newark Academy, expressed his admiration for the holiday.  He told News India Times, “I feel like my perspective is unique compared to most youth here in the U.S. For example, I am president of the South Asian Student Union at my school, where we are tasked to bring in knowledge of our cultures to spread equity and inclusion amongst the student body. To do this, we make learning about Diwali fun, hosting a fashion show composed of students and faculty, dances choreographed by the leadership team, and an informational slideshow about the history and traditions of Diwali. I feel that my experience and responsibilities in school are in tandem to my interest and excitement to celebrate Diwali at home with my family. I love to eat sweets, sing religious songs, and learn about my culture. There is a huge disconnect when you are not living in India, and a lot of the importance is lost when you travel. However, I feel like the youth who care and cultivate their culture in their own lives find Diwali to be as intriguing and exhilarating as other holidays.”

In June, New York City’s Mayor Eric Adams announced that Diwali would become a public school holiday in 2024, according to the New York Times.  Summer Murjani, a high school student in New York, voiced her excitement at this news.  She said, “It’s amazing that for the first time I’ll have Diwali off of school to celebrate with family and friends!  This milestone will make New York’s Desi population feel immensely more at home here, one diya at a time.”

“Since I’m only half, I don’t look conventionally Indian,” says Kasper Shroff, a senior at West Boca High School in Florida, “but, Diwali is a time that I come together with my family and, more recently, the Indian community in my area to celebrate our culture.  While I may not know all the prayers or the full history behind the holiday, it’s an opportunity for me to embrace the heritage that I don’t display daily.  My favorite tradition has to be lighting fireworks with my cousins in New Jersey.”

Ahana Sonpal, born and raised in Mumbai, recently moved to the US to attend Sarah Lawrence in New York.  She described Diwali time as similar to the Christmas season here and reflected fondly on her memories.  She said,  “I am privy to the authentic Diwali experience in Mumbai with everyone’s home lit with diyas and lights, people roaming around on the streets in traditional clothes and sales in every store! While the festivities might remain the same, the buzz and community feeling around the festival differs in the US and India.”

As aforementioned, Diwali is not just a Hindu holiday.  The day of Diwali in Sikhism is celebrated as Bandi Chhor Divas. Tapleen Kaur, a junior at the Wardlaw Hartridge School in Edison, NJ, explained the holiday as commemorating the victory of the 6th Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji, against Emperor Jahangir who held him captive.  She went on to tell News India Times, “Diwali is an important festival in my family, it is a way to celebrate all the good in life and everything we are grateful for as well as good over evil. We do this by thanking our God for blessing us with everything we have. Along with many lights, diyas which are candles and fireworks.  We share many traditional foods as a family.”  She added, “Nowadays this history may seem to be lost and diwali may only be seen as the festival of lights which is why I believe it’s important to remember the history behind the holidays we celebrate today.”

Diwali, much like the South Asian diaspora, has a myriad of traditions and celebrations attached to it. It’s truly inspiring to see the next generation of Indian Americans carrying on their culture and inspiring change as seen in NYC.  News India Times wishes everyone a Happy Diwali, Saal Mubarak, and Happy Bandi Chhor.



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