December 2017


(Left) Meher Sanghavi, age 7, the first place winner in Group A (ages 5-8 years).


Winning entries offer unique perspectives and memories of youngsters on Diwali, Eid, Halloween, Navaratri, and more.

Thanks to all those who participated in our first essay contest for children. We enjoyed reading the essays and were impressed by the dedication of the writers. As our judge noted, it was really hard to choose the winners. It’s worth pointing out that a writer’s job is to reflect and record—and that in itself is rewarding.

Congratulations! All the winners below will receive cash prizes.

Group A (5 to 8 years)
First Place: MEHER SANGHAVI (“My Special Diwali”), Marietta, GA
Second Place: NEHAA RAJAGOPA (“I Love Diwali!”), Marietta, GA
Honorable Mention: RIYA KOTHARI (“Diwali with My Grandparents”), Grayson, GA

Group B (9 to 14 years)
First Place: AMINAH MUHAMMAD (“My Eid”), Lawrenceville, GA
Second Place: ASHA AHN (“The Frankenstein Family”), Atlanta, GA
Honorable Mention: ANAND KRISHNAN (“Season of Navarathri”), Suwanee, GA
Honorable Mention: ARUSHI GUPTA (“Celebrating Diwali”), Cumming, GA

Anjali Enjeti, our judge this year, is an award-winning essayist who serves on the board of the National Book Critics Circle. Her work has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Atlantic, The Week, NPR, The Guardian, The New York Times, and elsewhere. She lives in Johns Creek, GA, with her family.

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Festival Essay Contest, Group A, Honorable Mention

RIYA KOTHARI (“Diwali with My Grandparents”), Grayson, GA



Diwali with my Grandparents

In America there are four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Of all the seasons, my favorite is the fall. Now, if you are thinking it’s because of pleasant weather, then nope! You are wrong....

During fall, the leaves not only change their colors, but for us American Desis, it is also the season of festivity. As the fall begins, Indian and American festivals come into bloom. It starts with Rakshabhandan, where I tie a rakhi on my little brother's hand. Then celebrating India's Independence Day with our other Indian friends and family. Being Jain, we celebrate the festival of Paryushun by fasting for eight days. Then Navratri, where as a dance lover I get to do garba. And when it ends, my favorite festival Diwali gets celebrated, where I get to eat a lot of delicious food with friends and family and enjoy the opportunity of wearing gorgeous Indian outfits.

I live in Grayson, GA with my parents and my brother. My grandparents and cousins all live in India. I have visited them several times, but never had opportunity to celebrate the so called "festival of lights" with them.

Luckily last year when my grandparents visited us, I got a chance to celebrate all these festivals along with them. I really enjoyed making beautiful rangoli with my daadi. She and mom engaged me in making delicious Diwali snacks and sweets. My papa and daada both taught me the significance of Dhanteras by doing pooja of gold and silver coins. The next day it was Kali Chaudas where a savory snack was prepared and offered to our ancestors. On Diwali day I was really excited to come back from school to celebrate with my family. We all wore Indian clothes for Laxmi Pooja, and I got blessings from elders. After the pooja, we enjoyed fireworks. My little brother was scared, but my dad made him comfortable. We had lots of guests visiting us for chai-naasto (tea and snacks), and it was a blast.

The next day was the Indian New Year. We went to our Jain temple to do pooja and met other devotees. In the evening, we watched spectacular fireworks at Swaminarayan Mandir. The next day was bhai-beej and on this day the brother visits sister's home.

I love all of the Indian festivals; there is richness in history and there are scientific reasons associated with them. I really love our culture and traditions and enjoy more when my grandparents are here to celebrate. In USA, we not only get to celebrate rich Indian heritage but also to enjoy American festivals like Halloween, Thanksgiving, shopping during Black Friday and Christmas!!!

Riya Kothari, 8, is a 3rd grader at Grayson Elementary School.



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Festival Essay Contest, Group B, Honorable Mention

ANAND KRISHNAN (“Season of Navarathri”), Suwanee, GA



‘Tis the season of Navarathri

Navarathri is the celebration of the victory of good over evil. It is nine nights long, because it took nine nights/days for Durga to defeat Mahishasur. South Indians usually set up seven or nine stairs and arrange dolls on them. These dolls are usually of gods and goddesses. This is called a golu. Most families have some sort of theme in their golu. This year, I went and saw an Ayappa theme, an Egyptian theme, and a wedding theme, and many more.

My family does not necessarily keep a golu, but we are invited to many of our friends’ homes. Two years ago, we went to 11 people’s houses! I have been learning Carnatic singing, violin, and mridangam for a few years, and it is customary to sing or play an instrument as an offering to all the gods displayed in the golu. By the end of the day my throat is usually so parched, I can hardly speak!

When you go to a person’s home, they usually have lots of food but one dish that is common is called sundal, which is generally a type of seasoned beans or legumes. The sundal is offered as a prasad to God. In addition to that, most people have some type of sweet, and sometimes a full dinner.

On the ninth day of Navarathri, we celebrate Saraswati Puja, a day where you are not supposed to study and let Saraswati study. You keep all your books and instruments in front of her and do puja. Then on the tenth day of Navarathri, there is a celebration called Vijayadashami, a day when Durga defeated Mahishasur. What that means for me, is that I go to all of my music teachers’ homes, give guru dakshina and get their blessings for the next year. In the process I learn a new lesson from each teacher. It is also a good day to start anything new in your life. Both my brother and I started learning singing on a Vijayadashami day.

On one of the nights, we go to a dance (from Gujarat) called dandiya. It is a dance, where you use two wooden sticks and dance in large groups. During Navarathri, we also chant the Lalita Sahasranamam (the 1000 names of Devi) every day. When ladies go to a golu, they get haldi-kumkum and a gift; this is the main purpose of going to a golu.

My Navarathri celebration involves a collection of lot of the different types of Navarathri celebrations from across India. I don’t celebrate it strictly South Indian, but as a mix of North Indian, Gujarati, and many other ways. To me, Navarathri means building friendships and relationships, as well as celebrating the festival. It means admiring the beautiful display that people have set up at homes. It also means hanging out with friends while eating good food. It means a lot to me, especially because I am a musician and I love music!

Jai Ma!

Anand Krishnan, 11, is a 7th grader at North Gwinnett Middle School.




Festival Essay Contest, Group B, Honorable Mention

ARUSHI GUPTA (“Celebrating Diwali”), Cumming, GA



Celebrating Diwali

Lamps everywhere, colorful clothes, shining sequins, and delicious food. It may sound like I am describing Thanksgiving or Christmas, but it is actually Diwali, an Indian festival of lights. Celebrating this Indian holiday in America is fun because you learn more about your culture. Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil. We celebrate Diwali by praying, also known as pooja in Hindi. We also eat traditional food and light fireworks in the company of friends and family. Celebrating Diwali in America helps me learn about my heritage, spend time with family, eat wonderful food, and wear traditional clothing.

The stories and legends that I learn during Diwali help me learn about my heritage. I have learnt how Lord Ram defeated Raavan, a demon. When I visit India, my grandfather tells me stories that his grandfather told him; these stories have been passed down from generation to generation. One day I will tell these stories to my children and grandchildren. These legends also help us learn about the reasons behind customs. For example, we have a picture of Ganesh ji on our wall with his back facing away from us. We do this so that evil spirits do not enter our house and stay behind his back. We also light lamps during Diwali so that Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, can find our house and bless it.

We also like celebrating Indian holidays in America because we can spend time with family. Celebrating Diwali brings us closer to our families, because we help each other out to get the necessary components for the pooja ready or helping cook prasad (food you must eat because it has been blessed by gods at the pooja). It also makes us feel closer to our ancestors and grandparents, because even though we aren't together we are celebrating the same festival, eating similar food, and doing the same rituals.

Lastly celebrating Indian holidays give us a chance to help our parents cook and get all dressed up in traditional Indian clothes. We cook dishes like poori with aloo (fried dough with potato curry). We also make gulab jamun and kheer (fried sweet dough soaked in syrup and Indian rice pudding). Once we are done cooking, we change into traditional Indian clothes. Men wear kurtas (a long shirt) with pants or tights, while women wear sarees and lehngas (a saree is a long embellished piece of fabric, and lehngas are long skirts).

In conclusion, celebrating Diwali in America is lots of fun and a great cultural experience. Whether it is wearing traditional clothes, cooking, eating, listening to legends, or having fun with family​, celebrating Diwali in America is a great experience for everyone. Celebrating this holiday is just one way to connect with our Indian roots.

Judge’s comments:
Arushi has written a flawless, heartfelt essay with clear, specific examples that beautifully explore the importance of learning about one’s heritage and family traditions.

Arushi Gupta, 12, is a seventh grader at Vickery Creek Middle School in Cumming, Georgia.


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