BOTHELL, Wash. – Rajinder Birk watched Friday evening as her daughter, Gurleen, and son, Amandeep, each lit a small candle.
More than a hundred candles already glowed in front of the Sikh Center in Seattle and the sounds of music and prayer could be heard inside, where Birk’s husband, Harjeet, was waiting.
The Everett family came to the temple to celebrate the holiday of Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights.
It was a day to forgive all wrongs and to celebrate the triumph of virtue over evil, light over darkness, and freedom over captivity.
Hundreds of Sikhs and Hindus from Snohomish and King counties gathered at temples Friday evening for the festival, which is celebrated in both religions.
Navdeep Thind, a software developer from Redmond, came with relatives.
“It really feels nice to come together with a lot of people who feel the same way,” he said.
A big part of the celebration is a meal prepared in a communal kitchen, where everyone is equal.
“There’s a feeling of community when you cook and eat together,” he said.
Diwali is celebrated by several religious communities in India.
“Despite periods of conflict, these groups have years and years of shared cultural experiences,” said Purnima Dhavan, assistant professor of history at the University of Washington. “Different communities have figured out a common basis.”
The Sikh celebration of Diwali is based on a true story.
In the beginning of the 17th century, India’s emperor threw Guru Hargobind Ji in prison, because the guru’s father refused to abandon the Sikh faith.
The emperor eventually ordered the guru’s release, but Hargobind Ji wouldn’t leave without 52 imprisoned Hindu kings.
Historical record doesn’t mention this part, but it’s firmly rooted in the Sikh culture: The emperor said Hargobind Ji could take the kings with him if they managed to hold on to his cloak while walking through the prison’s narrow passages.
The guru had the cloak cut into 52 strands and led the Hindu kings out of prison. To celebrate his release, Sikhs lined the guru’s way to the Golden Temple with lights. Located in the Indian Punjabi province, the temple is the primary pilgrimage site for Sikhs.
Just two miles from the Sikh Center, hundreds gathered to watch fireworks at the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center. So many people were attending the celebration that traffic backed up on 212th Street SE, where the temple is located.
On Diwali, it’s the custom to spend time with family and share sweets, put on new clothes and give presents to children. The celebration takes on a much bigger scale in India.
Historically, Hinduism and Sikhism have had a complex relationship. Sikhism, which is prevalent in the Punjab region, is a relatively new religion, while Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest.
Sikhs believe in one timeless creator, while Hindus believe in several gods, each doing his or her part in the world.