Can Christians Celebrate Diwali? Indian Leaders Disagree
An Ohio ministry leader urges Christians to "redeem" Diwali's celebration of light; local Indian Christians discourage the idea (RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)
The lights are hung, the candles lit, the feast prepared, the New Year is almost here, families gather and the children wait to hear the dramatic re-telling of stories from the ancient past. No, it is not Christmas, nor is it Hanukkah or Kwanzaa; it is the Hindu festival of Diwali, celebrated in India and throughout its diaspora spread across the world and steeped in mythical tales, religious devotion and socio-cultural importance.
Diwali is celebrated by several religious groups including Sikhs, Jains and even some Buddhists, but its roots are thoroughly Hindu (a fellow Chron.com blogger offers a practitioner’s view). For Sikhs it is a commemoration of “the day of freedom” when one of their revered gurus, Guru Har Gobind Ji was released from imprisonment. Jains celebrate Diwali to mark the last of the tirthankara (enlightened one) Mahavira’s moksha (enlightenment). For Hindus the festival is the mark of a New Year, a time for prosperity and new ventures, a celebration of the brother-sister relationship and the prevalence of truth over falsehood and light overcoming the darkness.
Although the five-day festival has roots in several Hindu myths it centers around the account of the victory of Lord Krishna over the evil Narkasura. Other gods and goddesses, including the goddess of wealth (Lakshmi), are worshipped during Diwali but above all it is a celebration of life, light and lightheartedness.
Houston is home to the sixth largest Asian Indian population in the United States (read more about Asian Indian religion in Houston) and that being the case there are significant Diwali celebrations going on throughout the city this week. Local Hindu and Jain temples and Sikh gurudwaras will host Diwali celebrations featuring hundreds of lights and lanterns, Indian curries and festive music played on harmoniums (keyboard), tablas (drum) and tambours (a stringed instrument). For many Asian Indians living in the diaspora, Diwali is not only a time to celebrate religious myths or historical occurrences, it is also a time of socio-cultural significance and a celebration of Asian-Indian identity.
With this in mind Pramod Aghamkar, Executive Director of Satsang Ministries, started celebrating Christian Diwalis a few yeas ago in Dayton, Ohio. The Christian Diwali in Dayton is an effort on his part to immerse himself in native Asian-Indian culture and add the concepts and ideologies of the Christian worldview.
“The festival of Diwali provides the necessary framework, structure and organic occasion to proclaim Christ as the light of the world” said Aghamkar. “It gives stepping stones, clues and redemptive analogies for cross-cultural witness.”
Drawing inspiration from those Christians who redeemed pagan festivals and symbols to make Easter (eggs, new life) and Christmas (the evergreen tree bedecked with lights) what they are today, Aghamkar hopes to redeem the symbols and practices of Diwali for the sake of Christian witness. For him Diwali “is a native tool that still remains undeveloped by Indian Christians.” To tap into this potential, Aghamkar hosts a Christian Diwali in Asian-Indian family settings each year and now encourages other Indian Christian leaders to do the same in other cities.
One city where Indian Christian leaders are not so receptive to this idea is Houston.
Asked about the possibility of Christian Diwali celebrations in Houston, a local Indian pastor from The Woodlands demurred, “it is a major Hindu festival, Christ is not part of the celebration.”
“Whenever possible I seek the Scriptures for knowledge and direction” said the pastor. “I am not sure there is any place in the Scriptures where it talks about redeeming a heathen idea.”
Another local Indian Christian whose name is protected replied with a verse from the New Testament book of Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”
Aghamkar hears and understands these objections but believes the practice of Christian Diwali is still a viable custom. “Non-Hindu accounts show Diwali to be a flexible, multi-faceted festival” he said, “the form of celebration is not intrinsically Hindu, Jain or Sikh….though the principles are ‘non-Christian,’ they are not ‘un-Christian.’”
He also cautions that while the music, lights, food and stories may be similar between Hindu and Christian celebrations, the traditional Hindu gods and Sikh and Jain teachers are not lauded, but instead it is Christ who is the hero of the story who dispels the darkness and brings light and life. “It is not shifting from radical rejection to wholesale acceptance” said Aghamkar, but it is a way for “the Indian community to experience Jesus in a native way.”
WHAT DO YOU THINK? CAN CHRISTIANS “REDEEM” DIWALI? SHOULD THE HOLIDAY BE LEFT FOR HINDUS, SIKHS AND JAINS TO CELEBRATE? WHAT ARE YOUR DIWALI TRADITIONS?
QUESTIONS from HINDUS
The Author first says that an Indian Christian leader is using Diwali to position it and use it for Christian messages, which hasn't been received well in Houston. And then he goes on to say "WHAT DO YOU THINK? CAN CHRISTIANS “REDEEM” DIWALI?"
"Redeem Diwali"??? Excuse me, but I find that extremely offensive and ludicrous!!! Can we get this "White Man's Burden" nonsense done with now?? Who gives anyone the authority to start "redeeming" others? Should the Hindus start redeeming Christians now? Or Muslims? This smells, walks, and stinks like racism - nice theological Bullshit notwithstanding!!!
Here are the exact words that expose the fraudulent mind. "Diwali “is a native TOOL that still remains UNDERDEVELOPED by Indian Christians.” To TAP into this POTENTIAL, Aghamkar hosts a CHRISTIAN DIWALI in Asian-Indian family settings each year and now ENCOURAGES other Indian Christian leaders to do the SAME in OTHER cities. If this is not fraud what is?