By Merlin Douglass

Thought to be the fusion of many local harvest festivals, Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights is celebrated each Autumn. The exact date of the holiday changes each year and is based on the Indian lunar calendar. It is celebrated all over southeast Asia throughout India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, and other places with large Indian or Hindu populations. This year the festival begins on November 4.  

The word “Diwali” comes from the Sanscrit word “deepavali,” which means “rows of lighted lamps.” While religious in origin, everyone is invited to participate.  In many countries in South and Southeast Asia, Diwali is a national holiday and many people who are not Hindu  enjoy the traditions of family, candles and special foods which lead into the new year.  Besides new year, the holiday celebrates new beginnings, the triumph of light over darkness, as well as goodness over evil. 

And, as I sit, looking into an increasingly cold, dark, Oregon November, it’s hard to find fault in that. Fact of the matter is, I feel the time to celebrate getting through the tough times of the past two years has arrived and I might need to borrow a holiday to kick the season off early this year. Bring on Diwali.

Kalvin Myint, managing partner at Top Burmese Bistro Royale, grew up celebrating Diwali. “It was a great time in Burma,” he says., ”The festival lasts four days, and basically the whole city is lit with colored candles.  and in modern times you also see fire crackers. It was the only time of the year you could have fireworks,” he said. “So it was really fun.” 

Burma, now Myanmar, where Myint grew up, adapted Diwali from Indians who brought the holiday with them when they fled the British occupation and blended it with the local festival called Injua which similarly celebrates harvest, the end of the monsoon season and the triumphant qualities of light.

As people in Burma approach the new year, Myint says it’s traditional to do good deeds and have family gatherings. People get new clothes, jewelry, and utensils.  You want to pay your debts and clear the way for good fortune. You might host or attend a feast and you might give gifts.

Bringing tradition from his childhood to his current home in Beaverton hasn’t been easy and though he’s not particularly religious, but he says a great way to connect with his roots is to taste and share traditional foods. “People eat a lot of celebratory foods like Tea Leaf salad or Rainbow Salad during this season,” he said., “I’m going to work with my kitchen team to come up with something special for the restaurant for this season. Maybe we’ll do a lotus flower root salad.” (If you haven’t had a salad at Top Burmese yet, run don’t walk. They are delicious!)

Green Tea Leaf Salad
Green Tea Leaf Salad

As for good deeds, there have been so many unsung heroes out there, people who have gone out of their way to make sure other people got what they needed whether it was a meal, a friendly face, help with childcare, caring for an aging relative, or anything else. This November, I am celebrating all of the people, strangers and loved ones alike, who have helped us transform the darkness into light. These people, sometimes loved ones, sometimes strangers, who have helped us transform the darkness are the the light I am celebrating this November. 

Patrons can find out more about special holiday foods on the menu for Top Burmese Bistro Royale on social media at TopBurmese.com. To reach the Beaverton restaurant by email :@bistroroyale.com or by phone 503-809-5060.

For readers who’d like to celebrate at home here are some basic steps to follow.  

  1. Before or on the first day of Diwali, clean your home.  Spruce it up. Part of getting ready for a new beginning is putting everything you currently have in order (think laundry, cleaning out closets, recycling things you don’t use anymore). 
  2. On the second day, start the day with a nice bath before the sunrise and dress in new or clean clothing before joining friends and family for breakfast. Decorate the doorways of your home with candles.  Several local party shops carry beautiful traditionally decorated Rangoli paper luminary bags to put candles in or you can decorate your own. But if you prefer it, plain candles and strings of little lights will be just fine. This is also the day to send gifts of sweets to friends and neighbors.
  3. The third day is the highlight of the festival and is often dedicated to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Traditionally, the lights show her the way to your home so she can bless you with good fortune.  Families gather and share food and enjoy the candles, lights and fireworks.  No particular food or meal is traditional but it will almost always conclude with a variety of sweets. Additionally, some people believe in buying gold and silver coins as a sign of welcoming the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Many people also do charity work and give to orphanages and elder care homes, which brings light to people who await this time of year.
  4. The following day or two are often a time to exchange gifts. In Southeast Asia, public ceremonies are often held with fireworks.

Happy Diwali to all our friends in Beaverton who celebrate and those who will in the future!