More than 30 years ago when I was very young, I lived in a house across the street from a Krishna temple. What I mostly recall is the place was constantly emitting a joyful noise. Day and night, people were in there beating drums and singing and chanting. Generally it was kind of nice to live near so much festivity, though one time my housemate who was trying to sleep off some late night excess got so irritated he ran out in the street in his PJs shaking his fist and cursing at them. However, now that I am all grown up what strikes me as odd is how very long it took a younger, less confident me to just walk across the street and see for myself what was going on inside.
I was reminded of that Krishna temple this summer when I was up in the Uintas on a July night under a starry sky roasting marshmallows and telling stories around the campfire. A friend started telling a Hindu story that he grew up with, which he was teaching to his own kids.
According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life fewer than one out of every 200 people in Utah identifies their religion as Hindu. In Utah, the Hindu population is so small that Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, is a relatively unknown event.
But in India it’s a huge holiday celebrating the victory of good over evil. There are many wonderful stories about deities and demons that explain why everyone is celebrating. For a lot of people in the world, this is the time of year when you travel home to be with family, eat delicious food and hang strings of lights. You buy new clothes and give each other presents and send out greeting cards and dance and sing and play games together. And you shoot off fireworks and generally love one another and have a really good time.
No matter how much you appreciate diversity in theory, in real life it can be scary to cross cultural boundaries. Especially if you are used to being in the majority culture, it can be intimidating to find yourself in the minority, which may explain why I feel unaccountably nervous walking up to taco carts, wishing my Spanish were better even though nobody has ever refused to sell me a taco. Perhaps we are willing to spend so much money to fly across the world to experience other cultures and see new things because it seems so much more natural to be the foreigner when you are in another country.
But I might never get a chance to visit India, and even if I did, it might be the wrong season for Diwali. Diwali celebrations, open to everyone, in several Utah locations. The schedule of festivities at the Sri Sri Radha Krsna Temple assures me that all are welcome and that Ras Garba Indian folk dancing is “very easy for anybody to learn in minutes.” So it looks like Diwali is another chance for me to pluck up my courage, walk across the street and go meet my neighbors.
Amy Brunvand is a librarian at the University of Utah and a dance enthusiast.