Diwali: Festival of Lights

Today, Friday, is Diwali, a major Hindu festival. When I saw these pictures of Diwali celebration preparations in Durban, South Africa, I emailed my friend Danola, (who I met when we both taught in Japan, and who now lives in the UK, but happens to be from Durban,) and asked her to explain what Diwali is like and what it’s all about. Here is what she had to say:

Diwali is the festival of lights. It is celebrated to mark the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita, and his brother Laxman from their 14 years of exile in the forest. (Basically, Lord Rama’s jealous step-mum asked his father to banish him, so her son would be king of the land.) Anyway, that guy actually refused to be king. Instead, he ruled on his brother’s behalf until Lord Rama came back from the forest.

So those three, Lord Rama, Sita, and Laxman, are walking home and the news spreads. As it got dark, all the people of the country who were celebrating the return of the king lit clay lamps along the path, (so now it is the Festival of Light).

That’s the most famous part of the story. There are other stories – about his time in the forest and other deities he met and a drought and then plenty of rain so people had food and they celebrated – but the story of Lord Rama’s return is the main one.

Basically, what we (Indians the world over) do is celebrate with new clohtes, cooking lots of sweetmeats and yummy (incredibly fattening) food, and having a party. In the evening we light clay lamps and play with fireworks. Back in the days of apartheid, when my family lived in an Indian area, the whole neighbourhood went ballistic. Clay lamps in every house, along gardens paths, etc. Kids in the street with fireworks, having fun. Trays of yummy foods being exchanged between neighbours. It really was the highlight of the year.
Now, with noise restrictions and pets, fireworks are controlled. Living areas are mixed, so you may only find one garden decorated with lights in a street. In fact, I don’t know if you remember my Mum’s house, but it’s an upstairs unit in a security complex, and she will probably be the only person in that entire complex with some clay lamps burning in her verandah.

So that’s Diwali in South Africa. It never happened in Japan, and I didn’t notice it at all in London last year, so who knows! I bet it’s still celebrated in style in India, though. 🙂

-contributed by Danola, posted by Dana


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