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 (or Deepavali) has sublime relevance to the society at large. Which is why, people of all faiths get together to not only 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 larger meaning of Diwali, the Festival of Lights 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.
Hindu Festivals begin with a prayer to Lord Ganesha, the Elephant-headed God, believed to be the Remover of all obstacles.
The Goddess of Wealth Lakshmi is at the core of some segments of the community, while it is the tale of Ramayana for some communities. 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.
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. There must be something more to the Festival if it brings together arguably the largest number of men, women and children in the world (more than one billion) to observe Diwali as a Festival or as New Year’s Day around the world.
Hindus, Jains and Sikhs join in a common bond to commemorate the day in a festive mood. Politics and other ailments of the day are given a go by and everyone enjoys in each other’s company.
Although it is antithetical to the spirit of the Festival to segregate people into varied faiths and beliefs, Diwali is perceived with a note of difference by different communities. A brief look at some of these would bring out the colour and variety of Diwali.