With Diwali 2021 fast approaching (it begins tomorrow!), we’re joined by a few of our very own people to share their experiences of celebrating the festival…
Who celebrates Diwali and how does it vary around the world?
Rajvi: Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains around the world but has now become a shared celebration where we can all celebrate together (just like Christmas). Hindu devotees celebrate the return of deities, Rama and Sita, to Ayodhya after their 14-year exile. Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth, is also worshipped as the bringer of blessings and fortune for the New Year which follows the day after Diwali. In Jainism, Diwali marks the nirvana, or spiritual awakening, of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C. In Sikhism, Diwali honours the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru, was freed from imprisonment.
Can you tell us a little about the reason Diwali is celebrated?
Smita: Diwali is celebrated worldwide as part of a religious celebration and/or a reason just to get together and enjoy time with family. It is one of the major religious festivals in Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. Worshippers visit temples to pray for happy, healthy and prosperous lives for their loved ones. For some, it coincides with the annual harvest and new financial year milestones. It is a festival of new beginnings for the coming new year.
To represent this event, homes are decorated with candles and decorative lights, grand feasts of rich and novelty foods are made and shared with family and friends who have gathered to celebrate Diwali. New clothes are worn over the festive days and presents are shared amongst family and friends. It is a time to be merry and make memories together!
What are the typical traditions of Diwali?
Pravin: At Diwali families will light up their houses inside and outside placing lights along entry paths or on balconies. The lights are intended to dispel darkness, fear and ignorance and welcome light, wealth and knowledge into the home. Families will often dress in new clothes and decorate the threshold of their homes with a colourful pattern known as a ‘Rangoli’ to welcome guests into the home. Diwali is a community event and friends, family and neighbours will visit each other with delicious sweets, signifying the forgetting of any bitterness and a new beginning. Many families also celebrate by setting off fireworks or sparklers, representing the victory of light over darkness as well as adding to the festive mood.
What are your first memories of celebrating Diwali?
Nisha: My earliest memory as a child was being gathered around all my family standing outside watching my cousins light fireworks. I was fascinated by all the colours and sparkles but at the same time a little scared of the loud noises. I loved writing a list for my parents of all the presents I wanted. On Diwali day and Hindu New Year, I would get to wear new Indian outfits and get all glammed up. My dad would read me an animated book at bedtime telling me the story of Diwali. On Hindu New Year (Ankot), my mum would make different types of delicious food which are then offered to Lord Vishnu and then eaten by all family members, like a feast after a religious ceremony has taken place. We would then visit different family members’ houses and be given money as a present and blessing for the New Year ahead, and we’d also visit different temples together.
What does a typical Diwali day look like for you and your family?
Smita: In the build-up to the day of Diwali & New Year’s Day (the day after Diwali), I enjoy shopping for presents and food for the day. For me, Diwali day is family time where extended families get together and have a proper sit-down, home-cooked dinner made by various visiting households where dishes are brought as contributions to the feast. The family get together and party until the early hours of the morning, playing party games and enjoying each other’s company. The youngsters get very competitive with the games, the older generation share old memories or fall asleep whilst in the company of their loved ones.
During this get-together there is a feeling of contentment - with everyone appreciating that we are all so lucky to have each other together at the start of the New Year and new beginnings. Often people take this time to share their good news, by announcing things like engagements, new additions to the family and new business ventures, and everyone can share in their happiness together. It is truly a magical day in the year which I enjoy very much.
How have you adapted your Diwali celebrations during the pandemic?
Rajvi: I have a very large family and every year is special as aunts, uncles, cousins and kids all get together to share a feast, set off fireworks and play games together. We wear colourful clothes and create Rangolis (coloured floor patterns) at the main family home. There are also Diwali parties amongst friends and communities which I enjoy attending. Lockdown Diwali was very different, but we all still decorated our homes, had an Indian brunch at home and joined family zoom calls all dressed up and in the spirit to celebrate.
Tell us about how you’ll be celebrating Diwali this year.
Nisha: Diwali is extra special this year for me, as it will be my first time celebrating it as a mother. I want to make sure my daughter enjoys all the celebrations as much as I did when I was a child. As a child, I would do a countdown to the days leading up to the celebrations and help my mum cook lots of delicious treats. I would be super excited to spend time with all my family and decorate our home with candles and lights and create beautiful Rangolis on the floor or table using coloured powders.
I think Diwali for a child is more exciting and is all about the fun and presents, whereas for adults it is all about the religious aspect and spending time with family. This year, I will be able to create some lovely memories for my little girl and shower her with lots of presents.
Any advice for people who have never celebrated Diwali before? How could they get involved?
Pravin: Anybody looking to celebrate Diwali for the first time could dress in new clothes, visit a friend, relative or neighbour, share some sweets, dispel any bad feelings and start their relationship afresh. Or you could welcome friends and family with an array of lights leading into your home for a home cooked meal followed by sparklers and fireworks. If you really wanted to get into the Diwali spirit you could welcome your guests into your home with a Rangoli decoration. You could also attend a temple to celebrate - although the temple will be very busy at Diwali so it could be a little overwhelming if it’s your first time!