Across the world and across generations, South Asian spiritualities have inspired a move toward new age wellness cultures. Western takes on Hinduism and Buddhism have become heavily commodified with messages of mindfulness losing translation as brands capitalize on selling what it means to “be well.” Furthermore, the stylistic take on many of these Westernized spiritualities prioritizes a minimalist aesthetic—think neutral tones, birch, and rattan. In the West, the spiritualities appropriated from the Global South become whitewashed and digestible. Freeing your mind is now associated with blank and empty spaces. In reality, this aesthetic movement has an appropriated spirituality that is originally extremely maximalist. South Asia is a vibrant place full of contrasting patterns, colliding colors and mismatched textures. Spirituality is internalized, not intellectualized. Joyful expression is externalized through decoration and design that maximizes a sensory experience, honoring the brilliant experience of life. The celebration of Diwali epitomizes this.
This weekend, many South Asian communities will gather to celebrate what is commonly known as Diwali or Deepavali, the festival of lights. Around the world families and friends gather in varying customs for a celebration that ritualizes the triumph of good over evil. South Asia is a region of vastly distinct dialects, ethnicities, and traditions. Diwali highlights the subcontinent’s diversities, drawing on a range of religious events, archetypes, and deities. From the commemoration of King Rama’s return to his kingdom after defeating Ravana to the reverence of Lakshmi, the goddess of abundance and prosperity, various sects of Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Buddhism commune in ceremony. Perhaps this lack of homogeneity is what has allowed the region’s stylistic choices to maintain as dynamically as they do.
Always coinciding with a new moon, the five-day-long festival brings together prayers, food, and fireworks, often taking days to weeks to prepare for. One thing is for certain, in all observing communities the lively adornment of sacred spaces, including the home and one’s altar, is a big part of this celebration. Living rooms and kitchens become the hub for festive feasting, draped in a multicolor of light and sound. Despite being miles away from their ancestral lands, diasporic South Asians continue to uphold this tradition across borders at a time where it feels paramount to cherish moments of communal gratitude. This year, the main Diwali festivity falls on Sunday, November 12.
We spoke to three South Asian creatives to learn more about their Diwali decor essentials and how to emulate a space that is true to its tradition when hosting in your own home. What you’ll notice is that all of them share a common thread of personalizing festivities with objects attached to specific moments and memories. Curbing the commodification of spirituality then becomes about a genuine and true understanding of where the practice comes from and why it’s maintained. In that way, meaningful Diwali decor cannot be bought or sold. Instead, traditions can be developed over time, ebbing and flowing with the seasons of life. Color is crucial, though!