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Diwali Came Early This Year: Hindus Celebrate Kamala Harris Victory

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Today, Indians around the world are celebrating Diwali, the annual festival of lights. It's usually celebrated with fireworks, a holiday meal and gifts and sweets. But this year, things are a little different. NPR's Mandalit del Barco has this report from Los Angeles.

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MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: India Sweets and Spices is a popular store and restaurant in LA's Atwater Village. Here, you can find everything you might need for Diwali - sparklers, candleholders, gifts from India and handmade sweet treats in many shapes and flavors.

KUMAR JAWA: Made with nuts, milk and the chickpea flour and made with the flowers. You know, so there's no end of story. There's so many - so many.

DEL BARCO: Kumar Jawa founded the LA restaurant and store chain in 1984 that makes the sweets in-house.

JAWA: A lot of people watching sugar right now, too. But still, people for Diwali day - they break the rules.

DEL BARCO: Jawa says the tradition of families gathering for Diwali is being curbed by the coronavirus pandemic. He says business is down by 50% at his restaurant and store. Still, he greets his customers wearing face masks and has this message.

JAWA: Happy Diwali. Be safe and hide from the coronavirus and stay home. (Laughter) And come to my shop (laughter).

DEL BARCO: There are several myths surrounding the festival of Diwali. It commemorates the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. In Punjab, Northern India, where Kumar Jawa was born, the story goes that the God Vishnu's avatar killed a demon named Ravana. In Southern India, Diwali is also known as Deepavali. There's a different version of the story there.

VASUDHA NARAYANAN: Another incarnation or avatar of Vishnu called Krishna came down and defeated many demons.

DEL BARCO: Professor Vasudha Narayanan is director of the Center for the Study of Hindu Traditions at the University of Florida. She says this year, one of the demons to be slayed is the pandemic gripping the world.

NARAYANAN: There have been cartoons, memes about this triumph of one of the deities hurling his weapons on the demon of the pandemic and killing the demon called Corona Asura (ph) - the demon Corona.

DEL BARCO: Narayanan says the demons could also be seen another way.

NARAYANAN: These are beings who grab political power and rule in an insane way, and you need cosmic forces to get rid of them.

DEL BARCO: Seen in this way, Narayanan says, the holiday has special meaning for many Americans who just elected a new president.

NARAYANAN: The result of this election and Deepavali coming together somehow marks a very auspicious moment. There are other Indians who disagree with that, but many of us believe that this is a moment of light.

DEL BARCO: And she says many are celebrating Kamala Harris becoming the first American of Indian descent and the first woman to become the vice president of the United States.

NARAYANAN: That success is part of the victory of women breaking the glass ceiling. And it's one kind of victory against forces which oppressed women.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Unintelligible).

DEL BARCO: Last weekend, villagers in South India celebrated Kamala Harris' victory by setting off firecrackers.

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DEL BARCO: News reports from the town where her grandfather was born showed people holding up posters with her picture and praying for her.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Non-English language spoken).

DEL BARCO: The villagers shared treats and drew congratulatory messages on the ground with bright-colored powders. In Kamala Harris' honor, they celebrated Diwali early this year.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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