This blogpost is posted by one our German volunteers
The Diwali festival is one of the biggest festivals in India. It is also called the light festival and with the festivals cozy atmosphere, golden lights, colorful saris and lots of candles, it tends to fit in the autumn season perfectly.
When we first celebrated Diwali, I was quite confused about the origin of it. So after I did some research, I will try to briefly explain the festival for all the foreigners on this blog and maybe also some interested Indians, because possibily there are even a few of you, which haven’t heard about the variety of traditions and story’s behind it!
The celebrations at The Hope House
In every area Diwali is celebrated differently, but also families traditions vary. I will begin to fill you in, in our unique experience and the way we celebrated it at The Hope House.
On the 23rd of October, we decided to have a movie night and watch the Tamil version of Forrest Gump: ‘Laal Singh Chaddha’. Some of the girls made chains out of jasmin flowers, others set still next to Nisha and Sharmila – two staff members who did henna / mehndi for the girls. Eventually we started so late in the evening that a few girls even fell asleep during the movie.
As the 24th was a holiday for us, we slept in. After Lunch we began to wrap and bind our Sarees. We couldn’t deal with the amount of material (6 meters of material) which you have to pin and bind in a specific way numerous times around your body. I think we wouldn’t have made it on our own, without the help of the staff and the girls. One hour later and dressed in our beautiful colored Saris we took a lot of pictures. And as it began to dawn we made our way to the golden temple.
Sadly it was not allowed to take pictures within the temple. We bought tickets and started walking through a long hallway, which didn’t seem to end, to reach the center of the temple. In the hallway, they established hanging speaker boxes every 10 meters or so, which blasted a live auditioned mantra. At some point I felt like I was hallucinating, because we kept walking in the shape of a circle and the mantra kept on playing on and on repeating only the same sentence. I would say we walked for a minimum of 5 minutes.
We eventually reached the temple, which is made out of 70 kg of gold. There is one big temple in the middle surrounded by small places of prayer in smaller rooms. On the right-hand side one can lit small candles on the left a ceremony with holy water takes place. Every so often small shops of souvenir gifts caught our attention. The temple was filled with small Hindu symbols, elephants, squirrels and stars, as sculptures as well as engraved on the walls, ceiling and columns.
We tried to catch everything with our eyes and to remember it in every detail, because we couldn’t take any pictures.
Super impressed and overwhelmed by the exiting and adventures day and the glory of the festival, we made our way back home and fell asleep early that day.
What is Diwali?
Diwali is a Hindu festival which is celebrated in wide parts of Asia, such as India, Sri Lanka, Nepal. It is a 5-day celebration and the days vary every year. In Tamil Nadu the Diwali-holidays began on the 22. Of October and ended on the 26. Of October this year.
Diwali is celebrated in quite different ways in different parts of India. There are divergent stories referring the origin of the festival. The most common story behind the celebration is Lord Rama returning to his hometown, ‘Ayodhya’ after a period of 14 years in exile. Rama's army of good defeated demon king Ravana´s army of evil. ‘The good over the evil.’
The Diwali signifies the start of a new year in some western states such as Gujarat. When I asked a staff member at the Hope House about the purpose of the celebrations of Diwali she was surprised to hear that Diwali marks the start of the Hindu year in some parts of India.
But though the story varies, the origin seems to always be the same: it marks the victory of good over evil, truth over lies, light over shadow, and life over death.
Habits, traditions and rituals
Not only the story interpretation seems to vary referring to the state you may live in. The way of celebrating it is versatile. In Odisha, Eastern India people worship their ancestors in heaven. In Punjab, north of India the festival marks the arrival of winter. In Varanasi lamps and candles are lit on the river Ganga. ‘It is said that the Gods descend on earth to bathe in the Ganges on this day.’ Maharashtrians, honor cows, pray to goddess Lakshmi and celebrate the love of husband and wife. Bengalis offer meat, fish and hibiscus flowers, among others, to the goddess.
Did you learn something new? Let me know in the comments about other traditions! I'm looking forward to reading it. Thanks for your attention! Yours, Zoe