British Columbians celebrate Diwali with return of in-person events

·3 min read
South Asians are celebrating Diwali in a variety of ways this year from intimate family gatherings at home, larger celebrations with community at temples, to cultural festivals virtually or in person. (CBC News - image credit)
South Asians are celebrating Diwali in a variety of ways this year from intimate family gatherings at home, larger celebrations with community at temples, to cultural festivals virtually or in person. (CBC News - image credit)

With candles, prayers, sweets and more, cultural and religious celebrations for Diwali — known as the festival of lights — are underway for people across the globe.

Despite more relaxed COVID-19 restrictions this year, some people like Tanmai Bhatia in Surrey, B.C., are sticking with smaller family celebrations at home.

"I think it's a good time of the year to reflect within your family," says Bhatia, 21, who is keeping the safety of an elder relative in mind.

What is Diwali?

Diwali is celebrated by several major religions around the world, including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. For each faith, it marks different histories.

For some, Diwali celebrates the return of the Hindu deity Rama from exile, or to honour the goddess of wealth. For Sikhs, it marks Bandi Chhor, the liberation of Guru Hargobind Singh and 52 princes from prison. Diwali also marks the passing of the Jain spiritual leader Mahavira.

CBC News
CBC News

"It expands to mean different things to different groups of people. Diwali has become something that's a celebration of light, of family, of hope, of gathering together," says Bhatia.

Bhatia's family lights divas, which are oil lamps made from clay and lit with a cotton wick. The living room is vibrantly decorated with rangoli, an Indian folk art made from dry rice or wet rice flour. They do puja, a Hindu prayer ritual at their altar.

This year revives more community connection as people gather and celebrate in temples following the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions across most of B.C.

Nearly 1,000 people attended the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir Hindu temple in Surrey on Wednesday.

"This year people are excited," says Satish Goyal, president of the temple. "People were sitting at home [last year] so naturally people want to go out."

Currently in B.C. there are no capacity limits or restrictions on indoor or outdoor worship services except in northern B.C., where services are being limited to online. Single-person services where people can have quiet reflection alone are permitted.

CBC
CBC

While gatherings have grown this year, Goyal says the emphasis is still on celebrating safely, including wearing masks in the temple.

Cultural festivals return

Larger cultural celebrations have also made a comeback, like the Grand Diwali Festival scheduled for Nov. 12 at the Fraserview Banquet Hall in Vancouver.

With people eager to celebrate in person, the festival sold all of its 250 tickets within 36 hours, says organizer Vikas Gautam. Before COVID-19, the festival was accommodating 1,000 people.

While public health orders have restricted indoor dancing, Gautam has organized two hours of dance performances that visitors can watch from their tables.

Other celebrations have organized a hybrid of virtual and online events. Since Oct. 23, Diwali Fest has put on virtual showcases of dance performances, a Diwali storytime hour, and in-person diva painting, while an outdoor celebration at Trout Lake on Nov. 7 is now sold out.

"We are still in the road to recovery from the pandemic and we wanted to provide options for people," says creative director Kriti Dewan.

"If [attendees] were comfortable going out and wanting to have that physical touch point, we have those events available."

Diwali Fest Youtube
Diwali Fest Youtube

Diwali will also be celebrated at Rogers Arena on Nov. 5 as the Vancouver Canucks host their fifth annual Diwali night.

South Asian artists like DJ Intense, Vancity Bhangra dancers and the Beats By Dhol drummers will perform around the Canucks' game against the Nashville Predators.

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