Also known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali symbolizes the victory of good over evil. In Hindu mythology, Lord Ram defeated demon king Ravana and returned to the Ayodhya kingdom after a 14-year exile. The city lit lamps to celebrate his return and create a path to welcome him home.
Diwali has become one of India’s biggest holidays, where communities gather to light clay lamps called diyas, offer prayers and celebrate with family and friends. Those celebrations extend beyond India’s borders, including to Washington state, where 155,851 residents identify as “Asian Indian,” according to the 2021 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau. While not all Hindus are from India, an overwhelming majority of Hindus live there (94%) making it the country’s largest religion, according to the Pew Research Center.
For some in Seattle, a visit to the temple on the holiday can feel like a visit home, away from home.
Ishan Bansal last visited his family in India in 2019, before COVID-19 restrictions shut down most international travel. Bansal said celebrating the holiday in the U.S. with his partner Jasmine Bhalla holds even more significance to him now because it keeps him in touch with his culture.
“Even yesterday, I was taking a lot of time to decorate our house with lights and stuff,” Bansal said. “We [want to] make sure that we are actually celebrating it and making everything special.”
Bansal is a long way from home, but he and Bhalla make an effort to do video calls with their families. Bhalla remembers the decorations in the shops in India, taking time off to see family and how “you [would] have to eat many sweets.”
”It’s a time when you connect back with people,” Bhalla said, reflecting on the holiday.
Prerak Patel has lived in Seattle for eight years now, but likes to think of the temple as a kind of family. After two holiday seasons away, he said, it meant a lot for him and his sister Arushi to celebrate here again.
“It's not like home,” Patel says while glancing at his sister. “But I’m going to try to keep [the celebrations] going.”
This photo essay is the first in an ongoing series on holiday celebrations. If you have a celebration you would like Crosscut to attend, please let us know by emailing Amanda.Snyder@crosscut.com