As in America, where Thanksgiving is the time when families travel huge distances so they can celebrate together, so for Indians, Diwali is their most favoured festival for travelling to international destinations. This has given the festival of lights a truly global dimension and brought it to the attention of a far greater number of people than would otherwise have known about it. Here in the UK, which has historically had a very large Indian community, it has emerging as a landmark occasion for celebrating across the country and much else besides.
Diwali comes from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘row of lights’ and throughout Diwali, houses, shops and public places are decorated with small lamps called ‘diyas’. It is is one of the biggest festivals in the Hindu calendar and draws from traditional stories to commemorate the victory of personal virtue over vice and the divine over the demonic. More importantly, it brings friends and families together to celebrate, and is observed over a five day period.
Leicester’s fortnight-long Diwali celebrations are often described as the biggest and best outside of India, involving more than half a mile of garlands glittering with 6,500 lights. They will culminate this year in a large-scale fireworks display, incorporating fire drawings and “computer designed pyrotechnics.”
More than 50 exhibitors, food stalls and performances will be present at Birmingham’s Diwali celebrations, which is being organised by the Hindu Council of Birmingham at the New Bingley Hall.
Neasden is the unlikely setting for what is being billed as the UK’s biggest Hindu New Year party. The Neasden Temple – Shri Swaminarayan Mandir – in north London is holding what it claims to be “the largest Diwali and Hindu New Year celebrations in the country” on Diwali day itself, with hot snacks, prayer and a fireworks display.
Waltham Forest Council is holding a free, family-friendly Diwali get-together in Walthamstow with music and entertainment, a short firework display and hot food on sale at the local Assembly Hall, whilst Diwali en famille is taking place at Chiswick Pier House in London and promises “enough Bollywood music to get all ‘left’ footsies moving”.
The last word comes from the Prime Minister himself who issues an annual Diwali message (he leaves Christmas messages to the Queen). In this year’s message he said, “As the celebrations get underway, from London to Leicester, Glasgow to Gwent, Bristol to Birmingham, I want to send out my very best wishes to everyone celebrating the Festival of Lights”.