Indians around the world celebrated Diwali on Monday as bright earthen oil lamps and dazzling, colourful lights lit up homes and streets across India to mark the Hindu festival that symbolizes the victory of light over darkness.
Diwali, which is a national holiday across India, is typically celebrated by socializing and exchanging gifts with family and friends. Many light earthen oil lamps or candles, and fireworks are set off as part of the celebrations. In the evening, a special prayer is dedicated to the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, who is believed to bring luck and prosperity.
Ahead of the celebrations, cities and towns across the country were decked with colourful lights. Millions of Indians thronged crowded bazaars for shopping, bringing back the Diwali cheer that was dampened during the last two years due to coronavirus restrictions. The markets buzzed with eager shoppers buying flowers, lanterns and candles meant to decorate houses and offices.
As dusk fell on Sunday, over 1.5 million earthen lamps were lit and kept burning for 45 minutes at Ram ki Paidi, at the banks of Saryu River in the northern city of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state, retaining the Guinness World Record it set last year.
Hindus believe that the deity Lord Ram was born in Ayodhya, where he returned after 14 years in exile. To celebrate his return, people light earthen lamps.
The holy city was decked with fairy lights ahead of the event and a laser and fireworks show illuminated its lanes and river banks. Thousands of residents also lit lamps at their houses and temples across the city.
The stunning spectacle along the shores of Saryu River was also attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Amid chants of Hindu religious hymns, Modi lit an earthen lamp and performed “aarti” — a customary Hindu ritual that involves waving lighted lamps in front of an idol.
A group of volunteers from the Khalsa Diwan Society of Victoria spent Monday afternoon preparing a large feast. (CHEK News)
While Diwali is heavily celebrated across South Asia in some fashion by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists, celebrations also took place in communities throughout North America, from Vancouver Island to New York and beyond.
At the Khalsa Diwan Society of Victoria, a group of volunteers spent Monday afternoon preparing a large feast at the Sikh temple.
“For the Sikhs, it is significant due to the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind. He was imprisoned by the Mughal emperor at that time. On Diwali day, he was released from the prison and he returned to Amritsar,” said Hardip Singh Sahota, president of the Khalsa Diwan Society of Victoria.
From parties to family gatherings, a lot can happen. At the Sikh temple, the first day is most important for them. This morning prayer service was held and a larger crowd is expected in the evening.
“It’s a feeling, it’s positive energy. It’s one of those celebrations that you want to celebrate with family and friends,” said Singh Sahota.
Meanwhile, at the Victoria Hindu Temple, it’s not just about the celebration of life, but also about sharing the wealth.
“People all over the city are buying lights and lamps and sweets and exchanging sweets and going to friends’ houses and having a good community feeling of friendship,” said Sridevi Ganti, a spokesperson with the Victoria Hindu Parishad and Cultural Centre.
In New York, a glitzy soiree was held Saturday at The Pierre, fittingly a Taj Hotel. The party, now in its third year, highlights Diwali by bringing together high-powered South Asians with other New York luminaries — people who “the world saw as leaders and role models,” said host Anita Chatterjee, CEO of A-Game Public Relations.
A few kilometres east of the five-star hotel, those already familiar with the holiday were embarking on preparations for their personal celebrations. Earlier Saturday, the first of the five-day celebration, the streets of Jackson Heights, N.Y. were replete with reminders of the festivities.
The many sweets shops of the Queens neighbourhood, known for its South Asian community, were packed to the gills with little room for movement. In the stands outside Apna Bazaar, a grocery store, a sea of small clay pots and wicks for Diwali lamps lay alongside fresh bunches of cilantro and above bags of onions. Handwritten blue signs advertised Diwali specials for everything from bags of rice to ghee, tea and pitted dates.
“One thing I would say — the whole country celebrates, right? So it’s lit up,” fashion designer Prabal Gurung said of celebrations in Nepal, where Diwali is better known as Tihar. He sees signs of Diwali’s increased popularity in New York. But, he said, the whole city “is not celebrating yet — so I’m just giving them a year or two.”