Diwali is one of my favourite celebrations that my family take part in. Coming from a mixed heritage, my parents have always ensured that we celebrate both English and Indian festivals which not only means that we receive double the amount of presents but also feel a sense of belonging to both cultures. Diwali is also known as the festival of lights as it is traditional to light up your house with an impressive array of candles and small clay oil lamps to symbolise the triumph of good over evil. As a family we spend most of the day preparing the house by cleaning and decorating it before the evening party begins. The evening party is a welcomed excuse for family and friends to come together, enjoy a varied and plentiful selection of flavoursome Indian dishes and dance the night away. The house becomes a beacon of light and merriment full of laughter, music and fireworks that mark the celebration that usually falls between Halloween and Guy Fawkes Night.
It has always been important that everyone attends the celebration and for years I watched as relatives and family friends travelled from work, home and University to make sure they were home in time. Now that I live away from home myself I have to pre-book my train to guarantee that I can make it home and don’t double book the important date. This hasn’t always been easy and during my first year of University I prided myself on never missing the connecting train between Leeds and London, until I missed it on Diwali. Due to a broken down bus I missed the train by five minutes and thought I would not be able to make it back to London in time to make the celebration that I had been looking forward to. After an hour of stress and hard negotiation I managed to get myself a place on the next train which meant that I could make it after all. From that day I made myself a promise that I would not ever come that close to letting my family down again, especially when the day is that meaningful. This coming October I am due to start my teaching assistantship in Sicily and my flight home for 3rd November is already booked, although this year that date holds a dual importance, not only is it Diwali but it is also my 21st Birthday!
Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith: Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs.
Hindus interpret the Diwali story based upon where they live:
- In northern India they celebrate the story of King Rama's return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps.
- Southern India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura.
- In western India the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity) sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world.
In all interpretations, one common thread rings true—the festival marks the victory of good over evil.
Non-Hindu communities have other reasons for celebrating the holiday:
- In Jainism, it marks the nirvana or spiritual awakening of Lord Mahavira on October 15, 527 B.C.
- In Sikhism it marks the day that Guru Hargobind Ji, the Sixth Sikh Guru was freed from imprisonment.