LIGHT...A MOTTO TO CELEBRATE
I have dedicated my whole life to light. For me, light feels like an idyll – an inspiring and encouraging combination. I also recognise my love for a man who has introduced me to Indian culture and costumes. It’s both of these factors that make me write about Diwali: the enchanting Indian festival of lights.
I admit to having a special predilection for this kind of ambient lighting that includes candles and fire – situations where flames diffuse an environment, and their flickers become mystic. There are numerous festivities that celebrate light as the main icon: since Christmas itself; the Spanish smouldering bonfires of San Juan; the religious Hindu ritual of candles, Aarti; the festival of floating lanterns or fire balloons (Kongming) in Thailand, along with the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng; the Japanese festival of candle-lit lanterns, Obon; the Jewish festival of lights, Hanukkah, and so many others not mentioned here – they all have that magic that we’re able to reckon with.
Historically, Diwali dates back to ancient India where it was a festival to celebrate the harvest. In reality though Hindus interpret the Diwali story based upon where they live, but there’s a common thread — the festival marks the victory of good over evil.
Diwali is one of the major festivals of Hinduism. Light, in the form of candles and lamps, is a crucial part, representing the triumph of light over darkness, goodness over evil and hope for the future. The exact day of the festival is decided according to the Hindu calendar, which is a lunisideral calendar and uses lunar months and sidereal years for timekeeping. Diwali coincides with the darkest night – the night of the new moon in the Hindu calendar month of Kartika (mid-October and mid-November), but it extends over a five-day period.
Its celebration includes millions of lights shining on housetops, outside doors and windows, and around temples. The small little clay lamps are called “diyas” and they symbolically represent parts of sun, the cosmic giver of light and energy to all life, which seasonally transitions in Kartika. Meanwhile, women and girls design rangolis and other creative patterns on floors, near doors and walkways, and adults and youngsters alike help with lighting and preparing for patakhe (fireworks).
For those living here in London, the large Indian community brings the festival to the city – it normally happens a couple of weeks or so before the real date. During the celebration, it’s definitely worth visiting Neasden Temple (BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir) – a sanctuary of vibrant Hindu worship in North-West London, near Wembley. Built of Bulgarian limestone and Italian marble and carved by Indian sculptors, it’s a dignified beauty to admire, especially if it’s full of diyas!
I hope this encourages you to save the date for next year. In my opinion, it’s a magical festival that celebrates faith and makes us more giving, more forgiving, become more mellow and considerate, and being sincere, nowadays, is something special – whatever can achieve this, definitely deserves a go.