As one of the most eagerly anticipated celebrations, Diwali is an explosion of light and joy around the world – but how does the world celebrate this traditionally Indian event in the 21st Century?
We spoke to Diwali inspired bloggers and Hindu organisations from different parts of the globe to gain a greater insight into the celebration of light defeating dark, and discovered people connected by the great celebration in the sky.
Let’s start in New York.
Sheetal from the Hindu American Foundation describes how her friends and family come together in the Big Apple to re-live their memories of India:
“After moving to NYC, my husband and I began celebrating Diwali primarily with our friends – either gathering at someone’s home or gathering a large group at an Indian restaurant for dinner. We always made it a point to visit the Ganesha temple in SoHo (which tragically shut down earlier this year).”
Nothing compares to Diwali in India though, reminisces Sheetal and re-creating that very special celebration, with its mouth-watering treats and events has become increasingly difficult with living abroad:
“Diwali in India is particularly special. I have distinct memories of celebrating Diwali with my extended family in India as a child. Between family, firecrackers, and food, the celebration took on a life of its own. All the houses were lit up and there were beautiful rangoli designs adorning the entrances. Family, friends, and neighbours continuously came by throughout the day, bringing with them colourful boxes of mithai and often, staying for chai and snacks.
“There was a constant buzz in kitchen in my aunt’s house, and the aromas that wafted through the ground floor of the house made my mouth water. It was heart-warming, and it evoked a feeling that I have always found difficult, near impossible, to replicate whether in Atlanta or NYC.”
Explosions in the Sky, Kindness Below
For some, Diwali is all about the children and giving to those in need, especially back home in India. Devang Vibhakar, a blogger based in India describes the celebrations as a chance to take his son around the slums of India, gifting firecrackers and sweets to street kids.
“I find happiness in seeing them smiling when they accept these gifts. I share small packets of sweets with poor kids around my area. Also take my son with me and distribute small firecrackers with the slum kids. I do so as I find happiness in seeing them smiling when they accept these gifts.”
Asked what things he would miss from Diwali if he wasn’t there for it, Devang describes missing the sheer joy his son feels while fire cracking: ‘He never gets tired of it. I just love that moment.’
This feeling is shared by Shalu who, with many other fellow Diwali celebrators, adores the firework displays.
“I wound not celebrate Diwali if it was not for the fireworks. My favourite fireworks are the rockets. The higher it goes and louder the sound, the better it is.”
Fantastic Food and Fireworks
It’s not only the skies which light up during Diwali. Throughout the festival kitchens across India are filled with the delicious aromas of traditional home cooking. Blogger Nidhi Singh, of Tour My India, comes from the state of Uttarakhand, in northern India.
He said: “Being an only Christian in the Hindu neighbourhood does have its benefits. Diwali preparations begin from painting the threshold of one’s house in red and white colour, the art is called Aipan. In my case, one or the other neighbor offers to do Aipan at my house.
“The celebration of Diwali revolves around preparing traditional food Aaloo Gutuk (Spiced Boiled Potatoes), Raita (Salted Yogurt mixed with Cucumber, Turmeric and Mustard Seed), Puri (Deep fried Bread made from unleavened dough) and Kheer (Sweet Dish made from adding milk, rice, sugar and dry fruits) and decorating houses with Diyas (earthen lamps) and candles.
“Yes, gambling (playing cards) is a part of the ritual too; however there are no solid reasons as to why it should be done. Fireworks are obvious!”
Nidhi suggests boxes of dry fruits as a great traditional Diwali gift, or for loved ones crockery or home appliances and even ethnic wears.
The Kumaoni people, who originate from the Uttarakhand region, will often sending gifts as unique as Aipan work done on a sheet of paper to their relatives living abroad, as a way of wishing them prosperity and health.
But as much as Diwali has its universal traditions, it is the personal touches which bring the festival to life for many. Nidhi said: “A neighbor, who is a dear friend, every year, buys an extra sparkler (a hand-held firework) for me.
“It has been her ritual ever since we were kids, on each Diwali she would come to my place and hand me over the sparkler which we both enjoyed putting a match to together.
“Whenever, I am unable to visit home on Diwali, I miss the most the warmth that we two shared by lighting up the sparkler that she gifts me each year. It is a small thing but aren’t small things rare to find and cherish in the world today?”
You can read more tips and memories in Nidhi’s blog post: Best Ways to Experience Diwali Festival in India
Sharing the Love
A big part for Shalu is also sending gifts abroad to family members. “Gifts are an essential part of celebrating Diwali, I have relatives abroad and I send them gifts and they send me something in return.”
The sending of gifts is also a leading factor for Prasad who has “family in UK, US and Canada whom we love to send gifts. We gift clothes, handicrafts, sweets, chocolates, cutlery and utensils (it is considered auspicious in India), as well as electronics like mobile phones and watches.
Prasad also likes to “project pictures of my family and the lights on the buildings with the fireworks around.”
There are a few different themes that inspire the celebrations of Diwali, but family and community are clearly the leading contenders, regardless of location. Here in the UK, where Indians make up the second largest ethnic minority, the skies above the cities of Leicester and London are turned into a wonderful barrage of colours and explosions as entire communities come together (alongside natives) to join in the festive atmosphere.
Silent Diwali in Kenya and Tanzania
With the continued migration of Indians around the world, Diwali has obviously followed and is now celebrated in at least 16 other countries. From Australia to Nepal, the festival of light is eradicating shadows everywhere as cities become decorated in beautiful lanterns.
But, in the former British colonies of Kenya and Tanzania, over 50,000 Indians, making up just 1% of the nation’s demographics, are forced to celebrate Diwali slightly in the dark due to the ban on fireworks imposed by the ruling government.
As Quartz reports: civil unrest in the region has forced the nation to tighten security and stop the use of fireworks, especially during Diwali. For some, this means the ‘The festive part of Diwali has all gone,’ and that the original ‘cookouts, fireworks, huge family gatherings, and celebrations a week in advance,’ no longer happen.
How did you celebrate Diwali? Tweet us your best pictures to @parcelhero and we will share the best ones! Happy Diwali!