Diwali, commonly known as India’s festival of lights, began Saturday. For Nashville Sikhs, that meant gathering at their gurdwara for the first time since March.
There were about a dozen people in the room for the evening event, singing along from behind their masks as they sat cross-legged on duct tape markers 6 feet apart. Others came and went, bowing before the takhat, a golden throne where the scripture Guru Granth Sahib is kept, and leaving offerings.
Sarabjit Bhatti says, normally, it’d be standing room only with an overflow crowd stretching out into the parking lot. And, there’d be nonstop food.
“It is a feast,” Bhatti said. “I mean, you are talking about an all-you-can eat buffet at an Indian restaurant. It’s kind of like that. It’s never-ending — pans, you know, this big of matar paneer, daal. People would be making fresh naan — garlic naan, cilantro naan. Restaurants can’t cook that good.”
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists as a reminder of light in darkness and good over evil. But it has extra meaning for Sikhs.
Though it’s the fifth largest religion in the world, Sikhism is a newer faith, so the centuries-old Hindu festival was established by the time the sixth of ten Sikh gurus was around. The pre-teen Guru Hargobind was imprisoned by the Muslim Mughal empire for several months in the early 17th century, along with 52 Hindu princes. Rather than accept being released on his own, he demanded the princes go free with him. So, Diwali is also Bandi Chhor Divas, the Day of Independence, for Sikhs.
Bhatti moved to Franklin 42 years ago. She says holidays like this — celebrated with country-wide candle lightings and fireworks in India — made her miss home even more.
“I missed the family. Every time I called, most of the time, I was crying. And, those were the days when telephone calls to India had to be booked ahead of time and the cost was like $5 a minute and it’s like, I’m crying the entire time,” she said, laughing about it now.
Bhatti says she wasn’t a very religious person when she came here, but homesickness drew her closer with the Sangat, the gurdwara’s congregation. She dug even deeper into the faith once she had children.
“I said, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know anything. What am I going to tell them? Who am I? What is my heritage?’ It’s like, if you don’t know something, how can you teach anybody else?”
Nearby, Sakander Singh was emphatically nodding as Bhatti shared this. The 26-year-old moved to Clarksville in the middle of the pandemic. As a Los Angeles native, he was used to having many Sikh Sangats close by.
“So, I don’t see Sangat over here because of COVID, and people are taking precautions. That’s good, too, you know,” he said. “They’re listening online.”
Missing his family on Diwali, for the first time, kind of makes him want to move back home.
There’s this Sikh mentality though, that Bhatti brought up.
“Chardi kala, which is eternal bliss. Sikhs believe that you know like live in the moment. You know, whatever is happening, it’s not going to change because you don’t like it, right? So, you just accept it and go on.”
And, chardi kala can get you through anything — a cross-country move, a contentious election, a global pandemic.