Diwali returns with scaled-down celebrations

·3 min read

Brandonite Sagree Mudaly observes Diwali each year with her family.

She appreciates how the Brandon community works to honour the religious holiday — which starts today — because it’s an important part of her heritage.

“We have celebrated Diwali all our lives,” Mudaly said. “Our kids have to know these things and what better way to keep our culture alive than by celebrating?”

The Diwali festival is celebrated over five days in India, where it originates. In Canada and other countries, it is typically celebrated on a single day by Hindu, Sikh, Jain and some Buddhist communities.

“For many, there’s very deep, religious and cultural significances in these communities. Diwali is found all over the world, and there are multiple significances you find among the communities,” Mudaly said.

She added in South Africa, where she used to live, the Hindu community usually takes a day off from work to celebrate. They wear colourful and elaborate traditional attire, which is purchased especially for the festival. During Diwali, families will visit each other and homemade sweets are exchanged; traditional meals are also shared and some people trade gifts.

Some families will also spend the night in worship at Hindu temples.

“[Hindus] came to South Africa in 1860 and settled from India. They have maintained very strong cultural roots, and this has been passed down from generation to generation, through various obstacles and struggles,” Mudaly said. This history makes it important for her to carry the traditions forward.

Diwali gatherings are smaller in Brandon, but the religious holiday is still honoured with acts of kindness, including distributing homemade sweets to friends, having prayers at home and placing sweetmeats at their Hindu shrine. Mudaly said they also contact family and friends to give well wishes and decorate their house in bright colours and lights.

She especially enjoys creating the sweet treats associated with the holiday because the traditional recipes have been passed down for numerous generations.

“This gesture signifies our thanks for blessings that we have in our lives,” Mudaly said. “It may not be the same as celebrating in our home families … But we want to keep these traditions alive for the sake of our kids.”

In Brandon, a Diwali celebration is typically organized by the local Indian community, she said, and an event is set to take place in Wawanesa this Saturday. The celebration includes a traditional meal, music, indoor games, prayers, and Garba — a traditional form of dance. The Diwali celebration is limited to invited guests only due to COVID-19 public health measures.

The name Diwali is derived from the Sanskrit name Deepavali, meaning “row of lights.”

“To most people that celebrate, it symbolizes the triumph of light over darkness, but also knowledge, awareness and enlightenment over ignorance, and love over hatred,” Mudaly said.

To celebrate the festival of lights, Hindu communities light fireworks and homes are decorated with colourful lights and clay lamps called diyas to invite positive spiritual energy into the home.

The ritual comes from a tale in Ramayana, a holy scripture in Hinduism, and celebrates the return of Lord Rama, his wife and goddess Sita, and his brother Lakshman, after their defeat of the demon king Ravana.

The trio had spent 14 years living in exile and on their return home, they experienced a night of “extreme darkness,” preventing them from finding their way. The people of Ayodhya lit clay lamps around their route to guide them home through the darkness.

Their journey is symbolized by the row of lights celebrated during Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights.

“It’s known as the Festival of Lights because it’s a celebration,” Mudaly said.

» ckemp@brandonsun.com

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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun

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