Diwali – What is it?

Diwali – also known as the Festival of Lights – is a special occasion celebrated on 7 November amongst much of the Indian community, particularly Hindus and Sikhs. Primarily, the festival commemorates the concept of good conquering evil, although it has several connotations in different regions of India.

In northern India, Diwali celebrates the return of Rama and Sita after their 14 years in exile and the defeat of Ravana, the ten-headed demon who had captured Sita to try and force her into marriage with him. For others, the festival honours Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, who is said to roam the earth that night and bless those who clean and open their homes to her. For Sikhs, Diwali commemorates the release of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes from prison in 1619.

Being one of the biggest festivals in the Indian calendar, it wouldn’t be a Diwali celebration if it wasn’t loud, vibrant and opulent. It is common for friends and families to get together and enjoy firework displays, rejoicing the festival with a great sense of community spirit. Diyas – decorated oil lamps – are adorned in every corner of homes to guide Lakshmi in; they are also used to symbolise knowledge, where an ignorant person would stay in the dark and only through enlightenment will they realise the purpose of their existence.

Feasting is also customary in the celebration of Diwali. Revellers gorge themselves with delicious food such as samosas, pakoras and puris, and mithai (sweets) like gulab jamun, jalebis and laddoos. As the saying goes, food is the way to one’s heart, and revellers live true to these words, ensuring that they are satisfied with the rich flavours of traditional Indian cuisine.

Celebrating Diwali at university is a brilliant way to bring people from different backgrounds together and to be further educated about other cultures. Often, religious societies hold events, such as trips to temples, group-outings to watch fireworks and Diwali balls; so for those of you who may be missing out on Diwali celebrations at home, there are many opportunities to have fun with your university mates still.

I wish you all a Happy Diwali!

Kiran Athwal

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