Diwali in Leicester – Lucille Méranger
Diwali in Leicester
After spending a semester abroad, we, second year Master students, all had to choose a conference or a cultural event that we had attended, and write an essay about it. Though I spent my semester in Nottingham, I chose to write this essay about Diwali, the Hindu Festival of light. First of all, I made this decision as I feel that attending this cultural event was particularly representative of my semester abroad. Indeed, three of my house-mates came from India, and spending time with them has allowed me to learn a lot about their culture. Secondly, the celebration of Diwali that we attended was Leicester’s celebration, Leicester being a city known for its large Indian population. This particular celebration is therefore truly famous. It is actually known as the biggest Diwali celebration outside of India and has really become part of the English culture itself.
The Hindu religion celebrates numerous holidays, but Diwali is one of the biggest. Depending on the region, the holiday may have a different significance. However, no matter what the legend or belief is, all of the different stories are representative of the victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance and, most importantly, light over darkness. To the people I met, who came from the North of India, Diwali represents the return and coronation of King Rama, the great warrior. Rama had been exiled for 14 years, along with his wife and his younger brother, by his father Dashratha. He was exiled because he would have been the rightful heir to the throne, and his father’s wife wanted her own son to become king. After the exile, Rama came back to Ayodhya, and defeated the demon Ravana of Lanka in an epic war. Diwali is therefore the celebration of this victory, of the triumph of good over evil.
If this particular holiday is not always celebrated for the same beliefs, that is to say that it does not always come from the same root of the legend, the tradition of the celebration remains nearly the same in the different regions. First of all, it is the festival of lights. Diwali is also called “deepavali”, which etymologically means “row of light”. Legend says that when King Rama went back to Ayodhya after having defeated evil, the people lit rows of lamps to welcome him. To this day, the people celebrating Diwali light numerous diyas, which are little clay lamps. They are a representation of this victory, and are themselves a strong symbol of the celebration. Traditionally, the Diwali holiday lasts five days, and starts according to the moon, which means that the date is not the same every year, and happens between October and November. This year, the first night of Diwali was the 10th of November. Each day of the celebration has its own significance, and all of them include both deeply spiritual traditions and lighter celebration. Mostly, it revolves around prayers (Puja) to the goddess of wealth and prosperity, and festive use of lights, fireworks and firecrackers. The last day, however, is a little particular, as it celebrates the love and affection between brothers and sisters.
It is very interesting to see how festivities and spirituality have an equal part in this holiday. I find that a very good example of this is the relationship of the people to the goddess of wealth. My house-mates have explained to me that on the eve of Diwali, people usually gamble, but on the very first day, the idea of wealth becomes a lot more spiritual. We went to Leicester on the first night of Diwali, which represents the first night of light, and the blend of spirituality and festivity was truly captivating. I am really happy to have been part of this celebration, and I find most interesting how deeply it is part of British culture. The entire main street of Leicester was in celebration, full of light and joy. Of all the cultural events I have attended during my semester abroad, this is clearly not the most attached to Nottingham’s culture. However, it is truly the most representative of my entire semester.