New Life at Hindu New Year

October 27, 2008

Author: Barbara Karkabi

Source: The Houston Chronicle

At the end of Rohith Mehra's first Diwali celebration, his family was in complete agreement — the 21-day-old infant had been on his very best behavior.

Dressed in a handmade red tunic decorated with tiny dots of gold and white leggings, Rohith was cradled in his mother's arms. When awake, his lively dark eyes took in the colorful scene around him. He even stayed calm when his grandfather blew a conch shell, loudly announcing the beginning of the family Diwali service.

"The baby did very well. He woke up for the aarti, the concluding part of the puja," his proud grandmother, Usha Mehra, said of his behavior during the home worship service. "He was awake and very patient."

Today is Diwali, the popular festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. The holiday is a joyful family time that marks the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. It also celebrates the beginning of a new year and the return of Lord Rama after 14 years of exile. Rama is the hero of the Ramayana, an ancient Sanskrit text.

Houston's Hindu community began many of its celebrations Saturday and will continue marking the holiday through next weekend with fireworks, lights, children's activities and special religious services at temples. At homes tonight and over the weekends, extended families gather in new clothes to exchange gifts, light candles and enjoy special sweets and meals after Diwali pujas are held in front of home altars.

Welcoming a new baby makes this an exciting Diwali for the Mehra family and for Rohith's tired but proud parents, Maneesh, 36, and Niharika, 32. The couple met as teens at a local Hindu summer camp and married 10 years ago. They postponed starting a family until she finished medical school and her residency in family medicine.

"This is very special to my in-laws because Maneesh is the first son, and he's passing on the lineage," said Niharika Mehra, now a doctor with Baylor College of Medicine. She's on leave from a Harris County Hospital District clinic. Maneesh Mehra is an information technology manager at Texas Children's Hospital.

Just as their parents taught the culture and religion of India to them, Maneesh and Niharika, the first generation born in the United States, will do the same. They plan to observe the holiday traditionally, but with their own twist.