As the celebration of Diwali gets underway, Devina Rishi from the Hindu Cultural Society in north London, explains the true meaning behind the colourful Hindu festival.
The Hindu calendar is noted for its many festivals and celebrations throughout the year but the most significant & universally celebrated of them all is Diwali.
Derived from the word Deepavali, literally meaning ‘row of lights’ the days leading up to the main event are filled with colour, illuminations and celebrations with friends and family.
It is the one time that the famous British autumnal weather cannot wash away and in fact acts as a fantastic backdrop for this colourful festival.
The Hindu festival of Diwali follows a lunar calendar and normally occurs in October or November of each year. This year the Hindus celebrate Diwali on Thursday 23rd of October.
The religious significance of Diwali derives from stories of the triumph of good over evil; in northern India of the return of Rama & Sita after 14 years of exile and victory over the evil demon king Ravana; in the South of India – the slaying of Narakasura by Lord Krishna and in western India it is in praise of the fearless Goddess Kali.
Whatever the religious story associated with it, Diwali means a time to give thanks and enjoy your good fortune and share the joy with all around you.
The celebrations are not limited to just one day as, in following the lunar calendar leading up to the main five days of Diwali, there are many occasions to bring together the family and strengthen the bonds of love and relationships.
Karva Chauth and Ahoi Ashthami are just two such occasions when women, often the guardians of the Hindu faith and traditions, fast and pray for the long life, health and happiness of husbands and children.
Their efforts are rewarded at the end of the day in bringing together the family in warmth, appreciation and love.
Prior to that we have the Navaratre festival celebrated over nine days. Each day ends in the colourful and energetic Garba Dance gathering in praise of various forms of the Goddess Durga.
On the 10th Day, Dussehra , a giant effigy of Ravana is often lit and fireworks set-off, to mark the victory of good over evil and the beginning of age of enlightenment.
Returning to Diwali itself, in Britain, it has become the responsibility of community groups and institutions to create a focus of celebrations and hindu identity.
In the past few years the Mayor of London has offered the extremely popular, Diwali on the Square, an occasion for all Hindus to celebrate their faith openly and with pride.
The Hindu Cultural Society in Finchley has for many years celebrated Diwali with a show that is the highlight of its year.
In the past it used to organise a Dussehra Mela in the nearby park culminating in the burning of an effigy of Ravana but more recently it has had to restrict its celebrations to a stage enactment of the story of Rama followed by a musical programme and festive dinner.
In the days of the mela it drew crowds of up to 1000 people but now, due to limitations of space, the celebrations can only be shared by 250.
However in offering a centre for Indian and cultural & religious studies and experience HCS is a beacon in North London for all who follow the Hindu faith.