What it Means to Celebrate Diwali During a Pandemic

Seven years ago, the non-profit I run, The Desai Foundation, hosted an event called Diwali on the Hudson. We were told that no one would show up, that Diwali was something people celebrated with their families. We sold out that year, and have done so every year since, hosting 350-400 guests for an injection of energy into the holiday. Last year, my calendar was filled with Diwali celebrations with friends, companies, and organizations, and I was so proud that we were a part of bringing this festival back to life here in New York. We loved highlighting different talents in fashion, music, comedy, and dance like the Sa Dance Company, Raja Kumari, DJ Rekha and Payal Singhal.

[Read Related: The Desai Foundation Celebrated the Festival of Light at NYC’s Premier Diwali Party]

But like many events in 2020, we won’t be able to host Diwali on the Hudson this year. And though I knew this was the reality months ago, on the first day of Navratri this year, this thought crushed me. For me, Diwali is so much more than the parties and celebrations. I love that it’s a time when I unapologetically flaunt my Indianness, when I can feel joyful while celebrating my culture alongside the diaspora all over the world, and when I feel deeply connected to so many friends and family in the U.S., India, and around the world.

The Diwali season is a bit like the Christmas holiday season: it’s weeks long, with multiple celebrations involving dancing, prayer and ceremony. Although it is a Hindu/Buddhist, holiday, people across all faiths in India and from the global diaspora come together to celebrate it every year.

Diwali is the festival of lights where we celebrate Rama’s victory over the demon king, Ravana. It’s because of this origin story that this festival is known as the celebration of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance. Given our current times, these themes have been ringing louder in my mind than usual.

Good over Evil.

Knowledge over Ignorance.

Light over Darkness.

What’s been unique about this Diwali is that we, all over the world, are facing the same evil: Covid-19.  What a novel concept, in a world as diverse as ours, with so many different political systems, religions, and languages, to be fighting against the same evil.

For many of my friends in the United States, the other victory we have been thinking about is the defeat of the current political admission. I imagine that not everyone agrees with me on this, and that is okay. But for us, we also thought about the news on Saturday of the victory, as ratification of knowledge over ignorance and indeed, of light over darkness.

At 13-years-old, I was lucky enough to volunteer with then-Senator John Kerry, and it launched a lifelong interest and passion for politics. I continued on to work with other candidates, but I never really thought that in my lifetime a Black-Jamaican and Indian-American woman would become the Vice President of the United States of America. Regardless of your political leanings, for many immigrants, and for Black Americans, her win is significant. Not to mention that this time next year, Diwali at the White House is going to be lit.

So, I wanted to ask a couple of friends how they were celebrating Diwali this year, to see if the holiday is resonating more deeply with them this year.

[Read Related: Marketing Maven Megha Desai Talks Building a Global NGO and the Importance of Cultivating Dignity]

Sheetal Sheth, award-winning actress, author, and producer

I am not one for the religious rituals of holidays, but I do appreciate and honor the cultural traditions that are celebrated. Diwali has always held a special place in my heart as it is a time where family and friends come together and celebrate the triumph of good, the victory of light over darkness. I can’t help but think about the civil unrest of our world and hope that the light we so celebrate, that light can not only guide but can crack open some of these walls so many of us have around our hearts. We need each other more than we know and I truly hope, this year, the message of Diwali penetrates more than ever.

Nitika Chopra, Chronic Illness Advocate and founder of Chronic Con

Diwali is my absolute favorite holiday! It means renewal and rebirth for me. I still feel so much joy thinking about all the mithai we will eat, the chai we will enjoy sitting around the table with all of our relatives and the beautiful clothes we will adorn ourselves with. There is just something so precious about it and I love that no matter what, our family is always together for Diwali.

Joshua Patel, Project Manager at Sandalwood Management Co.

Diwali is our New Year Celebration. We gather as a family and extended community to pray, eat, dance, and give thanks for all things good. In our prayers, we ask for prosperity and good health for our loved ones. As it’s an auspicious occasion, we also try our luck at poker!

Over the last decade, it’s been a treat to see Diwali grow from a holiday us immigrant families only celebrated at temples to a having an option of fabulous parties to attend. My first exposure to the mission of the Desai Foundation was from attending Diwali on the Hudson. It is my favorite Diwali event! Although there will be no in-person gathering this year, I sure will be celebrating  (from home) the victory of Kamala Harris winning VP! I hope to see everyone again next year.

Palak Patel, renowned chef, TV personality, TEDx speaker, creator of the first Curry Cube for BOU, and chef at the Institute of Culinary Education

The festival of light is so symbolic to me on a deep level because Diwali’s light brings new beginnings and hope. The rituals and the holidays that surround Diwali invite gratitude for the year before and focus on areas of life for new possibilities. It’s also a time for me to pay homage to my heritage and celebrate time with family and loved ones. The vibrant food and sweets are just another symbol of the abundance and joy that surrounds this beautiful festival.

Sonia Patel, co-founder and chief pharmacist of Capsule, mom of twins

Diwali is a special time for me and I’ve always looked forward to the joy that comes with gathering together with family and friends. Celebrations will look different this year and I can’t help but think how the significance of this holiday will resonate so clearly.

With the unrest and illness unleashed into the world in 2020, this year it won’t be about the parties and excitement but more so a time to reflect. Good over evil. Light over darkness. Knowledge over ignorance. Feeling optimistic the Diwali lights will shine brighter than ever and guide us through the tough times. I’m thankful to be able to celebrate safely and happily at home with my loved ones this year.

No matter how you are celebrating Diwali, or how it connects to you, we hope that you are able to keep light, joy and life in your heart! Happy Diwali!


By Brown Girl Magazine

Brown Girl Magazine was created by and for South Asian womxn who believe in the power of storytelling as a … Read more ›