Written by Pam Gosal
It has been a trying year, we have lost loved ones, lost our freedoms, lost jobs, and lost the most simple things like the way of living and being with each other.
There is a lot of uncertainty, tension, anxiety and anticipation about the unknown as some places are in the second lockdown and some on the edge of possibly going into it.
Today we live with another kind of normality one that we had never faced before. What a year! In times like this we really need some hope and happiness to carry us forward.
We have learned so much over COVID the value of being closer to family and taking time out to actually be with family even if it is virtually.
Let’s celebrate Diwali together. Diwali is a ‘festival of light’ that falls on Saturday 14th November, this year will be very different from the past years with family so near yet so far, but always in our hearts and minds.
Diwali is celebrated by Sikhs, Hindus and Jains all over the world. Diwali is celebrated by all these religions for different reasons yet sharing many similarities.
The Sikh celebrations involve going to the Gurdwara for prayers, to remember the day heroic political prisoner Guru Hargobind Ji was realised from prison. Guru Hargobind Ji, was the sixth of ten Gurus of the Sikh religion. Diwali marked the day when Guru Hargobind Ji returned to Amritsar in India after many years of enslavement by the Mughal ruler Jahangir for standing against the unjust and brutal practices of the Mughal empire. Diwali for a Sikh is about two events; Bandi Chorh Diwas and Diwali are separate festivals and the events fall on different days; however, commonly in the popular calendars, they are celebrated on the same day, which is known as Diwali. In real terms, the day of release out of the Mughal Empire prison from Gwalior for the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind with the 52 rajahs (kings) was actually a few days before Diwali in 1619. The Guru only agreed to leave the prison if the 52 rajahs who were in prison with him could also be released. The Emperor Jahangir, said that those who clung to the Guru’s coat would be able to go free. This was meant to limit the number of rajah prisoners who could be released. However, Guru Hargobind had a coat made with 52 tassels attached to it so that all of the rajahs could leave prison with him.
Diwali (a Hindu festival) was being celebrated on the day when the Guru reached Amritsar in India, the people lit up the whole city with thousands of candles, lights and lamps like they had never done before; there was much celebration and joy and to this day the Golden Temple is lit up to celebrate the return of Guru Hargobind Ji. Diwali celebrations take place all over the world including the UK. Certain places, like in the UK, are known to have the largest festival celebrations outside India. The story reminds Sikhs of freedom and human rights and this is what they celebrate on Bandi Chhor Divas.
Diwali for Hindus is based on the ancient event and scriptures of Hinduism, known as the festival of lights, usually lasting five days and celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika (between mid-October and mid-November). One of the most popular festivals in Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. The festival is widely associated with Lakshmi, goddess of prosperity, but regional traditions connect it to Sita and Rama, Vishnu, Krishna, Yama, Yami, Durga, Kali, Dhanvantari, or Vishvakarman.
Diwali follows the story of Ram and Sita to represent the victory of good over evil and light over darkness. The symbolism of Diwali is aptly summed in the simple act of lighting oil lamps – known as diyas – with ghee and cotton wicks and worshiping God Ganesha and Goddess Lakshmi. These are said to ward away evil and welcome Lakshmi (the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity) into the house. Hindus celebrate as the day when Lord Ram, his wife Sita and brother Lakshma came back to Ajodhya after Lord Ram’s 14-year exile and victory over the evil Ravan, people lit lamps to celebrate their beloved and caring king, as they had defied and fought against Kaikeyi’s Lord Ram’s evil stepmother’s plot
Aside from all the spiritual and religious meanings, Diwali is a joyful and happy festival that everybody enjoys, from switching on the lights quite literally, lighting beautiful diyas to spectacular firework displays. Celebrated with great enthusiasm and excitement, with homes being spring cleaned, the deep clean is seen as way of welcoming God Lakshmi into the home. Homes come to life in the cold dark winter month of November with lights and diyas sparkling.
Now Diwali food is something to definitely shout out about, all the recipes passed down from generation to generation, aromas taking us back to our childhoods. Mothers, grandmothers and aunties making the traditional Indian sweets, fresh and hot Gulab Jamins and Jalebis. Jalebis dripping is a syrupy sweet dish that goes round and round like a maze, it can even be made low fat with less sugar so that more can be eaten without feeling guilty.
Wearing your best and brightest Indian outfit, going to the Gurdwara and Mandir is a tradition that always carries on year after year, we thank God for everything he has given and pray for the future. Prayers are also taken place in people’s homes as well as the religious places.
These religious places have millions of people visiting on Diwali all over the world including the UK. Not this year! Visiting our families and friends. Not this year! Cooking, eating, dancing and celebrating together. Not this year! COVID has robbed us of so much that it is important to be reminded of the actual key Diwali messages; a reminder of freedom and human rights, good over evil and light over darkness. Diyas are lit and lights switched on all over the world to signify getting rid of darkness, dispel evil, negativity and bring happiness.
Diwali is all about being inclusive so this year let’s make it special even if you don’t celebrate the religious meaning. Yes it feels like somebody has turned off the lights this year, leaving us in the dark, away from loved ones, however the Gurus, Gods and the men and women who fought in the battles did not give up hope, let’s switch all the lights on in our homes and show our love and think of all the sacrifices people before us have made including those who gave up their tomorrows so we can have our todays and we shall never forget them. And remember the message, “there’s light at the end of the tunnel” and the idea of light being good has never been more important than it is now.