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Diwali & Bandhi Chhor Diwas
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Let’s Learn About Diwali & Bandhi Chhor Diwas
Celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists, the festivals of Diwali, Deepavali, and Bandhi Chhor Diwas (plus many other light-based festivals held in South Asia) fall on the same time of year and incorporate similar traditions, but have different origin stories depending on who is celebrating and how religious or secular they’re getting about it.
From what little I know, both Bandi Chhor Diwas and Diwali are a celebration of solidarity against tyranny and human-rights abuses, regardless of which religion you’re coming into it from. As a festival of lights, illumination as a symbol of knowledge and goodness in the face of ignorance and cruelty.
Until recently, it’s been hard to find a book on Diwali that wasn’t enthusiastically bigoted against darker-skin. (Still can’t find any books about the other festivals). It seems silly to read a book about the the Hindu Diwali without addressing of Rama’s defeat of Ravana and the return of Rama and Sita. However – in these picture books, folks go overboard with the visual metaphors, particularly those who have been raised to see darkness as ignorant/evil and whiteness as smart/good. In almost all of these illustrated stories, the good guys = light skinned and bad guys and peasants = dark skinned. Yeah, no thanks on the colorism.
It’s even header to find books on Diwali that don’t just gloss over the sexism in the original Ramayana. Some of the more modern books skip over the whole victim-blaming, chop off the inconvenient parts of the story, OR they treat Sita’s purity test as natural or ideal. Sita as a female object to be revered in virginity, captured like property, helplessly rescued, victim-blamed and slut-shamed for her implied rape, then self-martyred (what a way to sum up the expectations of women!)
Which is why I’m excited that my kids are getting old enough to dig into the harm of a narrow, over-simplified victim / savior / villain trope common in supremacist stories. We can finally pick through the sexism in the Ramayana and unpack it through modern feminist takes from Sita’s point of view.
So here are the books that don’t…do the colorism, at least.
When is it?
- Lasts about five days, celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar month of Kartika, which falls around October or November.
- Let’s Celebrate Diwali (ages 3-5) This is the first and ONLY story book that respects and upholds the faith of multiple Diwali-celebrating religions – without claiming any as the ‘right’ one.
- Archie Celebrates Diwali (ages 3-7)
- Ramayana: Divine Loophole (ages 9+) Patel took so many liberties with this retelling, but still kept the violence, and gross treatment of women. It’ll have to do for now. This is the most engaging intro to the Ramayana for English-speaking kids, but make sure to read alongside Sita’s Ramayana (ages 9+) as a counterpoint to the sexism.
Additional resources to dig deeper into this topic:
- Diwali Books without the colorism & sexism rampant in most kids’ books.
- To learn more about the significance of Bandhi Chhor – check out The Relevance of Bandi Chhor Today, by our friend Navjot Kaur of Saffron Press.
- Circumventing White Fragility With Adorable Books by Mango & Marigold Press