Tag Archives: Rangoli

Yin-Yang of Diwali and Halloween

Wrinkled brows, scorching cuts and decisive strokes greeted me as I went upstairs a few days before Diwali. We have to get started on our Halloween decorations, said the daughter cutting out a spider. The toddler son was lying on his stomach on the floor, helping his sister by coloring the ghost she had cut out from white paper, white. A cozy, merry scene with the sunlight streaming in from the windows.

When bees create their colonies, I am sure they didn’t care about a little mess. Neither did my bee-lings. I navigated the crayons strewn on the floor and walked past the strands of paper littering my path to peek at the objects of art.

A morose skeleton was being drawn and I shuddered at the image. I hated to damp out their enthusiasm, but I said, “Sorry guys. That weekend is Diwali and I won’t have skeletons and cobwebs hanging off the front door on Diwali.” (This year, Diwali fell on a week-end and Halloween the day after, on a Monday.) A mutinous roar went up. “Amma–Diwali is the opposite of Halloween. It is the festival of lights. You’ll put up those little diyas everywhere and light everything up and then you’ll make everyone dress up beautifully–it is the complete opposite of Halloween”.

I disagreed. They may be celebrated differently, but they are both meant to fight evil. Ward off evil–whatever. The concept is to banish your demons. Even the inner demons. So, Diwali and Halloween are like that Yin-Yang thing. Black and white together. Both are there in us and in the world around us. I felt like a teapot spouting philosophy from my long snout to a couple of trouts in the stream. I sometimes think children must feel we played tag with Confucius and hide-and-seek with Buddha. I tried desperately to gain ground again.

You can always find light in the darkest of places if only you remember to turn on the lights. Do you remember who said that?

Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter And The Prisoner of Azkaban

“Albus Dumbledore!” sighed the daughter. “Dementors–yes! Maybe we will do dementors also this time”.

“Also Voldemort–we can draw Voldemort and hang him outside,” piped the toddler son. He has no fear of He-who-must-not-be-named, and his sister beamed with pride at her little Gryffindor brother.

Guys! Guys! I won’t have Voldemort hanging on my front porch on Diwali either. Does Halloween have to be gory? Think of some themes and see if you can come up with decor that does not drip blood. Something positive, a call to action and also save our souls. How about that? I said.

When the daughter said, “Fine,” I left them to their own devices and pottered around the house.

I must say that I was mighty impressed with the resulting effort.


“We picked your favorite theme-nature, amma. So, you can put up some of this stuff for Diwali too. Then after Diwali, the next day, we can quickly put up bats and pumpkins all around and we are set,” she said.

I agreed. On the Diwali rangoli, we placed a large pumpkin surrounded by little lamps. The rain helpfully washed away the rangoli that very night leaving a damp, morose spot for the pumpkin the next day. All very satisfying. Happy Diwali and Happy Halloween. May we learn to take care of our world, the living beings we share it with, and balance our yin and yang for a beautiful whole.

This article was originally published November 3, 2016 and pulled from our archives. 

“Like An Indian Christmas” — Diwali for an (Indian) Scrooge

My mother’s eyes sparkled as I knelt beside her. Her white chalk scraped against the entrance to our house, adding wispy flowers between rows of hollow diamonds and peacock feathers on the outer edges of her design. There was something trained about the way that she made  rangoli — it was as though her hand was an old friend of the dusky soil, remembering past legends and reviving familiar stories through the imprint of the chalk. As I silently memorized the small, silvery  intricacies, my mother handed me a plastic bag of blue sand. 

“Why don’t you try this time?”

For centuries, Diwali has been regarded as the epitome of Indian celebration. From rows of incandescent clay diyas lining the driveway, to the sound of fireworks splintering the sky, Diwali embodies the very qualities that make India memorable — its intensity, its vitality, and its festivity. Aptly named the “festival of lights,”  this holiday has existed to commemorate our small victories and bring the Indian community together. Thus, when the first brown immigrants trickled across western borders, they brought pieces of this celebration with them. 

The American-born Diwali was molded by its new frontier. Older, previous references to the term “Deepavali” were forgotten, as the North-Indian derivative rolled off foreign tongues with ease. Melted globes of gulab jamun wrapped in tinfoil were often traded for plastic boxes of Ferrero Rocher. When well-meaning white neighbors questioned the rangoli patterns inscribed onto the nearby doorstep, brown parents would respond with a trained nonchalance, “Oh, it’s for a festival in our culture. Like an Indian Christmas, y’know?” 

Like an Indian Christmas. The uncanny likening between Diwali and the hallmark of every December calendar was almost prophetic. Because as “big business” captured the very essence of Western life, Christmas emerged as one of American’s largest marketing opportunities. Shopping frenzies, radio jingles, ridiculous discounts on washing machines. When its white sibling raked in billions of dollars worldwide, it became evident that Diwali would have to follow suit to survive. The ancient “festival of lights” would simply have to be bigger, brighter, and better. 

I  question the better bit. I don’t mind watching businesses, from local Apna Bazaars to Indian boutiques, explode with popularity every year. According to data journalist Niall McCarthy, Diwali discounts brought in more than 20 million dollars through e-commerce and online shopping in 2018 alone. Almost any desi beauty parlor offers more than one “Diwali package” for the local aunty. Thousands of mithai dabbas are shipped across the country to sweeten tongues (and industry bank accounts). But amidst the dazzle of materialism, something always feels a bit lost in the celebrations. No matter how bright the lights, I still feel clouded by a strange obscurity.  

As an Indian-American teenager, I don’t want to turn one of my favorite holidays into a mere marketing campaign. It’s seductive to turn this holiday into a straightforward, “oh, look at the pretty lights” circus — but it’s equally exhibitonist, and reflects some of the worst aspects of the Indian-American mentality. The original Ramayana that we claim to honor told a tale of heroism, love, and primarily struggle. But the Ramayana of today represents a different kind of conflict: the internal battle with the Indian-American identity. To rescue ourselves from  a self-imposed Lanka, we have to celebrate Diwali for ourselves. Not for social attention, not to impress our western counterpart, but for honoring the true spirit and values of Diwali. . 

   Diwali isn’t an incarnation of Christmas. It’s a narrative of its own — one that is beautiful and utterly Indian in its neglected simplicities. 

The paper cone molded into my palm. Nine year old me was nervous, watching grains of blue seeping between the white lines. Rangoli tells tales of lavishness — of exuberance and wild color — but the real art comes through temperance. A little needless  spurt of sand here or there, and the design would lose its balance. But the first row of diamonds was complete, its white boundaries fading into the ground like an echo. I was handed a pouch of marigold yellow for the circles in between. And just like that, I was lost in the rangoli, my mother and I, learning to tame the unfamiliar American earth. 

Kanchan Naik is a junior at The Quarry Lane School in Dublin and the Teen Poet Laureate for the City of Pleasanton. When she’s not doodling or writing poetry, she is most likely untangling her earphones or looking for something that happens to be — much like herself — lost.