As the Hindu community in the UK don their festive avatar and get ready for Diwali, the festival of lights, I join them in their preparation, for the first time being outside India, during Diwali.
I arrived in the UK for my studies in January 2022, with a lurking fear of being alone in a foreign land. I was assured about one thing, I would miss the grandeur of Indian festivals in the UK, be it Ganesh Chaturthi, Durga Puja, Navratri or Diwali.
Diwali, personally for me, is a festival, meant to be celebrated along with family. Celebrated to mark the return of Lord Ram to his kingdom of Ayodhya, as per the revered Hindu scripture of Ramayana, Diwali for Hindus also means a reunion of families.
Even though one prepares for Diwali for weeks prior to the festival, The formal preparations begin with ‘Dhanteras’, which is kind of a shopping festival celebrated two days before Diwali, where people buy new stuff. My family too, annually mark this occasion by buying new diyas (earthen lamps), dresses, sweets and idols of Ganesh and Lakshmi (Gods of wisdom and wealth). We then go on to decorate the house with fairy and celebratory lights. The next day, on Diwali eve, customary diyas are lit on doors, windows and passageways.
On the big day, we as a custom, draw a ‘rangoli’, an art made using colour sand and soil, at the doorstep and at the place where the traditional evening ‘Laxmi Puja’ is held. Cities and villages across India come to life as the sun sets, giving a picturesque frame of dazzling lights of diyas and fireworks. We have a family custom of getting into our cars post the celebration and roaming around the city till late at night. The speciality and impact of Diwali in India is that you won’t find a single patch of darkness anywhere in the country that day.
This is something I miss in the UK, even though there are planned Diwali meetups organised by temples and student unions alike, that India ‘feel’ will be missing for me. Nevertheless, I will still look forward to what’s in store and hope to be surprised by what’s on offer. I plan to mark Dhanteras, buying new stuff as is the custom. The big day falls on a Monday 24 October, so it would seemingly be like any other day of attending classes and seminars. I do hope to cook a grand dinner along with my fellow Indian friends who, like me, would also be missing families back home in India.
This being my first Diwali in the UK, I am very curious about how the Indian-British community will be marking the festival and am very excited and eagerly awaiting to mark the occasion in my new home. I am looking forward to visiting temples on the day, just to get the feel and warmth of ‘diyas’ lit and looking forward to being surprised by the British community, just like they surprised me with the Holi festivities (The Hindu festival of colours), which was a grand occasion, celebrated across the wonderful city of Leeds.