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Siona Wadhawan

an article by Siona Wadhawan

Dear Asian Youth,

Each October brings the celebration of Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. The day Lord Ram and Sita returned home after defeating the Demon King Ravana, their path was illuminated by thousands of lamps to honor their victory. In Hindu culture, Diwali symbolizes the triumph of the good over the evil and how the light will always transcend the darkness. Although my family and I attend many different Diwali events, my favorite is celebrating at the home of one of my closest friends, Anushka.

I walk towards the door of her house in awe. Dozens of tiny clay candles, or diyas as they are called in Hindi, litter the driveway. Each flame glows vividly, bathing in the pale radiance of the moon, transforming the pavement into a beautiful starry night. I feel a rush of excitement as the sound of distant chatter from inside reaches my ears. We enter the home and immediately are greeted by the warm embrace of friends and family. I can smell the heavenly aroma of freshly made halva, the hot pudding-like dessert we eat each year that melts inside my mouth with every velvety bite. The soft silk of shawls and fabric brush against my skin as I hug aunties and uncles and amid choruses of “Happy Diwali!” from everyone around me. After the hellos have been said, I rush downstairs to find Anushka and the rest of the girls. They are all waiting for me when I reach the carpeted floor of the basement. Each of them, like me, are dressed in lehengas, long, flowy skirts designed from richly colored fabrics with elaborate embroidery.

“Siona, come on! We’re about to start dandiya!” one of my friends, Diya, exclaims. Her dark, silky hair sways from side to side as she speaks. Dandiya is one of my favorite parts of celebrating Diwali. It is a Hindu folk dance involving two sticks and is done in rotating pairs. Once sticks have been distributed, we all line up in pairs as an upbeat, Bollywood tune starts to play. Our bodies move almost instinctively, as the familiarity of a dance we have done a million times before washes over us. We sway and twirl to the strong beat of the music; the rhythmic clicks of our sticks hitting each other, and the soft chime of our bangles clinking together. Our lehengas seem to be doing a dance of their owneach vibrant hue and intricately woven sequin comes alive at this moment, swirling and enveloping us. The room becomes a dizzying kaleidoscope of color; a chaos of fiery reds, deep greens, blues, and the twinkle of golds and silvers. After a couple of rotations, I whirl around, becoming face to face with a pair of deep brown eyes that are twinkling mischievously. They’re Anushka’s. Our eyes lock and we break into fits of giggles as we beat our sticks together. Suddenly, an overwhelming feeling of joy wells up inside of me, and I feel tears begin to spring to my eyes. I sense the warmth of our brown skin and the deep orange glow of the flames outside. I feel the rich culture that bonds everyone in this room together. Most of all, I am reconnecting with myself, a buried identity that now burns fiercely inside of me like the luminescence of a diya.

- Siona

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