Diwali. Deepavali. Festival of Lights.
Call it by any name, it is that time of the year when people the world over rejoice at the onset of a festival that marks the beginning of a new era of progress and prosperity. It may be an occasion marked only by Hindus at home and yet Diwali has sublime relevance to the society at large. Which is why, people of all faiths get together not only to wish those celebrating the event but also join in the festivities.
New Zealand’s multiethnic and multicultural character becomes even more apparent during such occasions. Hindu festivals, occasions such as Eid Al Fitr and Eid Al Adha marked by Muslims and events observed by Buddhists are just a few of the minority fetes in which people of other faiths also enjoy. Christmas and Easter of course, are national occasions in which everyone participates.
The Essence of the Festival
When asked to explain why Diwali is known as ‘The Festival of Lights,’ a four-year-old girl said, “There is light everywhere-of lamps, of crackers, of streets and of cars. None of us seem to sleep, for everyone is busy visiting family and friends and exchanging sweets. Where there is no darkness, there has to be light. Hence the name for the festival.”
Puerile it may be but the little girl’s perception of the festival was nonetheless correct-that there was no darkness and that there was no sorrow. Fun, frolic and gaiety everywhere. That in essence is Diwali, the Festival of Lights.
The larger meaning of the Festival is the world itself and the life of mortals like us on it. “There shall be no darkness in your home or in your soul. This is the time for prayers, time for giving, time for harmony, time for goodwill and time for all the good things in life. Let your hearts sing with joy for this was the day when the evil was vanquished by the good, proving to the world that truth shall always triumph. Light your heart and mind with hope for the morrow, even as you light your lamps and crackers with fun for today,” says a philosopher, explaining the meaning of the Festival to the young.
Diwali may have varied connotations for different regions of the Indian Subcontinent-the beginning of a New Year for some, the end of a season for others; The Goddess of Wealth Lakshmi is at the core of some segments of the community, while it is the tale of Krishna for those in the South. But none disagrees that it ushers in all the goodness that Mother Nature can offer.
Diwali heralds a new era of progress and prosperity. The fact that even a festival has diverse concepts speaks a lot for the variety of beliefs and practices that characterises the Indian society and of course the Indian Diaspora. It is this diversity which in itself seeks unity of thought and purpose. Ask an ethnic Indian-irrespective of his or her social disposition or even place of birth-you will know that somewhere along that composite lineage rests a bond that would perhaps date back a few decades or even centuries. It is such a bond that transcends time and space, making the young and old feel they belong to one hold, one community and one family.
Diwali in the Arab Gulf
There is something in this Festival that attracts people like a magnet, making them forget, for a day at least, that they are the people of one world and not of diverse beliefs and faiths. This writer, who resided and worked among a predominantly Muslim population in the Middle East could vouch for the fact that Diwali is a Festival which brings joy for all-with Arab men and women hosting parties for their Hindu friends, bringing together in the process, people of other faiths as well. It is not uncommon for ministers, public servants, Arab businessmen and even ordinary people to send out greeting cards, offer sweets and gifts to their Hindu counterparts on the occasion. Banks, commercial institutions and others invite their clients, colleagues and suppliers to dinner to express their gratitude and to celebrate the festival. Contrary to popular belief, save for Saudi Arabia which proscribes all non-Islamic festivities, Diwali is almost a national festival in other countries of the Arab Gulf.
So much for inter-faith and harmony.