The Festival of Lights is undoubtedly the most famous and grand of all the Hindu festivals. It signifies the beginning of a new year as per the Hindu calendar and is celebrated with much pomp and ceremony not just in India but also by communities all over the world.
Diwali or Deepavali as it is also known, is celebrated with different customs and traditions in each country, making it a truely unique worldwide festival.
Located South East of India, Sri Lanka features in the story of Diwali’s past in the epic of Ramayana. Lanka was the abode of Ravana the evil king with 10 heads who kidnaps Sita from the forest after becoming enamoured by her. Sita’s husband Ram defeats Ravana with the help of the monkey god Hanuman and his army and brings her home to a city lit up with oil lamps and diyas by its people. It’s this victory of good over evil that is one of the cornerstones of the Diwali Festival and has a special importance for Sri Lankans.
The celebrations revolve around illumination, the making of enamel toys and creation of figures from crystal sugar colloquially known as Misiri that takes the place of sweets. Hindus light oil lamps in reverence to the Goddess Lakshmi and burst firecrackers to mark the auspicious occasion. Although Sri Lanka’s Diwali celebration lacks a lot of the traditional aspects of the festival such as games, singing and dancing it does admirably preserve the custom of the large family meal.
Indians as the second largest ethnic minority in the United Kingdom celebrate nearly every Hindu festival, but Diwali celebrations are especially grand for them. Celebrated during the cold, damp and windy months of October-November the exuberance for the festival is in no way simmered down by the bleak weather as oil lamps and diyas lit in windowsills, shop fronts and doorways cast their twinkling lights and warmth upon everyone. Leicester is renowned for its opulent Diwali celebrations as Belgrave Road is lit up with bright lights and transformed into a massive street party as people dress in their Indian finery, feast on delicious Indian delicacies, dance to Bollywood music and watch the night sky light up with stunning fireworks. A public celebration is also held in Trafalgar Square every year with music, food, speeches and dancing.
India’s neighbour Nepal in the lap of the Himalayas is also the only Hindu Kingdom in the world. The Nepalese Hindu Diwali celebrations differ in their rituals and festivities from those in India. While the customs of exchanging gifts, decorating homes and shops, bursting Diwali fireworks and elaborate feasts to appease the Goddess Lakshmi remain the same, there are a few major differences in Nepal’s Diwali celebrations. The same Hindu festival is called Tihar and is celebrated over five days. The first day is dedicated to the cows with rice being fed to them as a belief that the Goddess Lakshmi will come to them. The second day is for dogs also known as Vahana of Bhairava and delicious food is prepared especially for the dogs on the day. Lights and lamps are lit to illuminate the surroundings on the third day and special treats are prepared to continue the celebrations. Plenty of fireworks are burst on this day, until the end of the festival. The fourth day is for Yama – The Hindu God of Death who is worshiped for a long life. The fifth and final day known as Bhhaya Dooj is dedicated to brothers who are wished a long and prosperous life by their sisters.
In the diverse cultural landscape of Malaysia, Diwali celebrations are not just limited to the Hindus as people of all races and ethnicities partake in the festivities. The Malaysians refer to Diwali as Hari Diwali and it is also a public holiday. The south Indian ritual of oil baths precedes all Diwali celebrations that are marked by visits to temples, prayers at household altars and paying homage to one’s elders. Although the bursting of firecrackers is banned in Malaysia it is a time to invite the Malays and Chinese to Hindu homes and celebrate the grand occasion with much fervour.
The Indian community in Singapore celebrates Diwali with elaborate candle and light decorations that create a beautiful illuminated spectacle. Little India on Serangoon Road, which has become the commercial and emotional centre of the local Indian community, is decorated with lights, garlands and colourful arches. The authorities do not permit the sale of crackers to avoid noise pollution so only sparklers can be purchased. Parents often take their children to light sparklers in open areas as part of their Diwali celebrations and offer prayers at one of the many Hindu temples in Singapore.
Japanese culture has always been very unique in its ways and their Diwali celebrations are no exception. Diwali is celebrated as a day that brings happiness, progress, prosperity and longevity of life to those who celebrate the festival. However the rituals surrounding a Japanese Diwali are truly distinctive to Japan and unlike anything in India. Diwali is celebrated by people hanging lanterns and paper structures on the branches of trees in orchards or gardens. Everyone wears new clothes, takes boat rides and dances to music throughout the night. Houses are cleaned to ward off bad energies and places of worship are decorated with beautiful wallpapers to bring in the festive spirit. The city of Yokohama attracts nearly 200,000 visitors in 2 days for its Diwali celebrations that have live concerts, dances and Indian food bazaars.