Deepāvali – the ‘Festival of Lights’ – is a time of togetherness, celebrating the triumph of good over evil. Preparations for the five days of festivities begin days, sometimes even weeks, in advance with the cooking of sweets and savouries being made, purchase of gifts, adorning of decorations and a deep-clean of the house!
Having grown up in Leicester (UK), I have enjoyed spectacular Deepāvali celebrations with approximately 25,000 attendees (one of the largest outside of Bhārat). There is something in the air during this time in my hometown; maybe it is the lit-up road and rangolis, the gathering of family and friends, or the prayers filled with hope and joy.
The festivities begin on the day of Dhanteras where devotees worship Lakshmi for a prosperous life. We thank Lakshmi for her blessings over the years and pray that she guides us all towards our future goals and ambitions. On Kāli Chaudas, day two of five, we conduct a pūja to Kāli Mā for the protection of our family and the world from negative energies.
The day of Deepāvali begins with an indulgence in the traditional homemade delicacies such as ghugra, chakri and mathia to merely name a few! My mum and I then put on our creative hats and attempt to decorate the front of our home with some rangoli. In the evening, the main road in Leicester (The Golden Mile) is filled with thousands who gather to see the ‘row of lights’, firework display, performances by local artists, roadshows and of course, eat delicious food!
In Gujarat and other northern Indian states, the day after Deepāvali marks a new year in the Hindu calendar, presenting the perfect opportunity to start fresh and dress up in new Indian clothes. We start the year by praying and seeking blessings from the elderly in the family. Several mandirs in Leicester offer an Annakut (mountain of food). The reason behind this comes from the mythological story of Krishna lifting the Govardhan mountain on his little finger for seven days to protect the people of Vrindāvan from thunderstorms.
Bhai Beej, also known as Bhai Dooj, closes the five days of togetherness by celebrating the brother-sister bond. Sisters pray for the long life and well-being of their brothers and invite them for a meal. I use this day to catch up with all of my brothers near and far – big thanks to technology!
Of course, Covid-19 means that this year’s celebrations will not be taking place as normal. However, Deepāvali will remain full of feasts, worship and family (virtually). This year, I look forward to taking time for self-reflection, and to understand the deeper meanings behind the stories of Deepāvali.
Let us embody Krishna this Deepāvali by deflecting our negative thoughts (heavy rain) to concentrate our energy (little finger) on our Dharma (mountain). We should strive to adopt similar strategies when dealing with various aspects of life, especially our mental health during these unprecedented times.
On behalf of National Hindu Students’ Forum (UK), I wish you all a Shubh Deepāvali! Let us continue to light up the hearts and minds of ourselves and others, with positivity, joy and love.
NHSF (UK) Central Zone Campus Team