Diwali: The North West communities celebrating the festival of lights during the pandemic

In ordinary times, thousands of people from across the North West would have gathered this month to celebrate the South Asian festival of Diwali.

Dance and music performances would have taken place, extended families would have connected, and large firework displays would have brightened up the night skies.

Things will be different this year - but it does not mean there are not plenty of celebrations still taking place.

Thousands of people usually gather outside Manchester's Town Hall for Diwali celebrations Credit: MEN Syndication

What is Diwali?

Diwali is known as the festival of lights.

The five day celebration is about new beginnings, the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. It's the most significant event in the Hindu, Jain and Sikh calendars and for each of those religious groups, it carries its own meaning.

This year, the most important day of the festival will fall on Saturday 14.

  • Shiven and Saurish Shankar tell us how they will celebrate Diwali this year.


For many Hindus, Diwali relates to the legend of Prince Rama and his wife Princess Sita. According to folklore, the pair were banished from their kingdom for 14 years on the orders of Rama's stepmother Queen Kaikeyi. She wanted to ensure that her sons became the next kings, not Rama or his brother Lakshmana. The pair obeyed and moved with Rama's wife Sita to live in the forest, not knowing that a feared king with 20 arms and 10 heads lived there.

The king called Ravana kidnapped the princess, but Sita left a trail of her jewellery for Rama to find her. The prince enlisted the help of the monkey king Hanuman to find his beloved wife, with messages sent to all the monkeys in the kingdom and passed on to the bears too.

After a long search Rama found Sita and killed Ravana. The couple travelled back to their homeland and everyone lit up oil lamps to guide them along the way and welcome them home.

During Diwali, many Hindus also honour Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth.


In Jainism, Diwali marks the anniversary of the liberation of Mahavira's soul.

Mahavira was born in India in the 6th Century and Jains consider him to be the last saviour of the present cosmic age.


For Sikhs, Diwali marks the time when Guru Hargobind was released from prison in 1619. The sixth Guru refused to leave until 52 Hindu political prisoners were also freed.

  • Jagtar and Sandeep Ajimal explain the meaning of Diwali for Sikhs.

So how do you mark a festival about the light shining through the darkness when you are living through a global pandemic?

  • Online religious ceremonies

COVID restrictions mean large religious gatherings are not allowed to take place this year, so many religious ceremonies are being carried out over the internet instead.

In some cases this has meant even more people joining in the celebrations than ever before. For example, leaders at the Radha Krishna Temple in Manchester would usually welcome around 100 - 150 devotees. In 2020, they are expecting around 5,000 people to join in from all around the world.

Many people have oil baths just before dawn on Diwali as a way to purify the mind and body Credit: Meghla Kuppuswamy
  • Online dance performances

Every year, Indian Association Manchester organise Diwali celebrations at Manchester's Town Hall. The day of live music, crafts and dance usually attracts thousands of excited spectators. Dance troupe, Soul Beats have performed at the annual event on many occasions - this year, they have taken their performances online.

  • Sweets

Homemade sweets are a big part of Diwali celebrations and are usually shared among friends and family. In 2020, people are sitting down to enjoy their sweets during online socials.

  • Bright lights

The annual large firework displays may not be taking place this year, but many houses will be filled with bright lights as communities across the North West celebrate Diwali.