Tuesday 25th October 2011

Festival of light fireworks

Tomorrow marks the Deepavali festival, or Diwali festival as it is also known. Deepavali is a very important date in the Hindu and Sikh calendar and expatriates living in India, or other areas of the world that have a strong Indian population, will be unable to miss the festivities as they are carried out. In this expat guide we take a look at the story behind Deepavali and consider some of the traditions associated with this very special time of year.

A Celebration of Good Over Evil

The Deepavali, or festival of light, celebrates the legend of Deepavali. The legend details the lives of the villages in a kingdom called Pradyoshapuram, which was ruled by a demon named Narakasura. The demon was extremely evil and tortured many of the villagers and imprisoned the women in his palace. Incensed at what he could see, Lord Khrishna destroyed Narakasura and released the people of Pradyoshapuram. From that day forth Deepavali was celebrated as representing the triumph of good over evil. On a spiritual level, the annual festival encourages followers to reflect on their own inner light and form an increased awareness of their inner joy and peace.

For Sikhs, Diwali celebrates Guru Hargobind’s release from prison in 1619. The Sikh tradition describes how Guru Hargobind was imprisoned with 52 princes by Emperor Jahangir. Guru Hargobind tried to negotiate their release from jail and the Emperor eventually agreed, but tried to limit the amount of princes who escaped by detailing that only those who were able to hold onto Guru Hargobind’s cloak tail could leave. In order to ensure that every prince could escape their imprisonment Guru Hargobind had a cloak made that had 52 pieces of string attached to it, one for each prince. Every prince was able to hold onto his cloak tail and everyone escaped Emperor Jahangir. The Sikhs celebrated Guru Hargobind’s return by lighting the Golden Temple, a tradition that continues to this day.

How Deepavali/ Diwali is celebrated

Expatriates living in areas that have a strong Hindu or Sikh presence will observe a number of things during the festival. In the days preceding the festival, many Indians will clean and even redecorate their homes. This type of activity symbolizes a new start and is particularly important for Hindus, who believe that the Goddess Laxmi, who brings prosperity and peace, will visit the cleanest homes first.

Those celebrating the festival will also adorn their homes with lights eliminate any darkness and light the way for the visiting Gods. Elaborate floor designs will be painted in bright colors around the home and follower will offer meaning prayers to the Gods in order to give thanks.

Expatriate Dos and Don’ts During Deepavali

If you’re visiting an area in which many people will be celebrating Deepavali, or if you are invited to an individual’s home to celebrate with them, there are a number of things that you should be aware of.

What to Wear

  • Wear brightly colored clothes that represent the color of the festival: the brighter, the better. Avoid wearing black or white at all costs as these are considered to be inauspicious.
  • If you would like to really join in the celebrations, consider getting a temporary henna tattoo. These are often considered to be sacred and many Indian people believe that they elevate the radiance of the soul.
  • Do not wear anything that is particularly low-cut or revealing and ensure that your legs are covered.

Gifts

Gifts are not expected but it is generally considered polite to give a gift to your host. Here are some of the things that would be especially welcome:

  • Mithai, Indian sweets or a high quality box of chocolates.
  • Flowers, the brighter, the better.
  • A traditional Deepavali card, addressed to the family.
  • Do not offer alcohol or food, especially meat.

The Expat Info Desk would like to take this opportunity to wish all our readers a very Happy Deepavali / Diwali!

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