11-14-15 indian celebration 02

Local women participating in a Diwali celebration in 2015 in Muscatine.

MUSCATINE — Since 2015, families have been meeting by the Mississippi River to light oil lamps and share food in celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights. This year, the festival will occur at the River View Center on Sunday between 4 and 9 p.m.

This popular festival is celebrated across many religions, most popularly in Hinduism but also among Sikhs, Jains, and some Newar Buddhists. But in all of its variants, the celebration symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair. 

"Here in Muscatine, we have almost 35 families participating," Priyanka Saha, an organizer, said. "We'll have almost 100 people here for the celebration. We are all going to make some traditional Indian food. It’s a kind of potluck."

The celebration will begin with offerings to Hindu deities Lakshmi, Ganesha and Kali.

"It's about welcoming the good things in our families," Saha said. "It's a way for us to wish good things for our families. It's a kind of new year."

As part of the celebration, Saha explained that many participants will be wearing colorful clothing and bringing lots of food. Houses will be clean and decorated with designs on the floor made of dyed rice powder.

"You give gifts to everyone around you that is close to you," Saha said. "The emphasis is on charity so even if you cannot give there is something for you to do."

For Saha, the celebration is about creating space outside the day-to-day grind. It's a time to light small oil lamps, light some firecrackers, even eat a few too many sweets, and all the while be surrounded with friends and family.

"We are all very busy in our regular life," Saha said. "This is a time to meet with family and friends. To eat together. The food we eat is made and eaten with our communities. It helps keep us together. Our traditions keep going on for year after years, and we want to just keep it going. We celebrate to meet and greet and offer all the prayers to bring good over evil and begin a new calendar."