Today is one of my favourite days of the year – Diwali. Known as the Festival of Light, Diwali is the biggest Hindu festival of the year. Though it’s origins are in Hinduism, most Indian people celebrate Diwali in some form or other. It’s estimated that 1 billion people are gearing up to celebrate it today! I wanted to write a little more about Diwali, why it’s celebrated and share how I celebrated as a child.
Diwali dates back thousands of years, it was mentioned in Sanskrit texts which are placed around the 1st Millenium CE, if you had a Western education this is roughly at the peak of the Roman empire. There are lots of different meanings and symbolism, depending on what part of India you grew up in.
My family is Sikh so technically we don’t celebrate Diwali but we always did growing up. My mum favoured a Sanskrit epic called Ramayana, which details some of the stories and mythology of Ancient India. The Diwali story I heard growing up centred around a prince called Rama who married the beautiful princess Sita. They were exiled to a forest, where Sita was kidnapped by the ten-headed demon king Ravanda. Rama enlists the help of the monkey god, Hanuman, to fight an epic battle to save Sita. They are victorious, of course. Legend has it that the citizens of the kingdom lit lamps and placed them in their windows to help guide Rama and Sita home, which is why we call Diwali the Festival of Lights. The story celebrates the victory of good over evil.
In Sikhism, we generally celebrate Bandi Chhor Diwas on the same day. It’s known as the Day of Liberation and it celebrates the release of the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind ji, from prison in 1619. Guru Hargobind ji only agreed to be released from prison if the other prisoners could also go free. The Mughal ruler Jahangir stated that only those who held onto the Guru’s coat would be released, to limit the number of prisoners who walked free. Guru Hargobind ji had a coat made with 52 tassels so each of the prisoners could leave with him. The story is a celebration of selflessness, helping others and freedom. We light candles and lamps as a celebration of light over dark.
I loved hearing both stories when I was a child and we always celebrated Diwali in a big way. Think epic feast, a mountain of mithai (desserts), new clothes and LOTS of fireworks. I’m sure you can see why it was the highlight of my year growing up!
I’m sadly not in London for Diwali this year as I’m travelling so I’m missing out but I have the stories in my heart and will celebrate with my family when I return home.
Photography by Kylie Eyra.