We recently held a virtual Diwali event to help us celebrate the festival of lights with our clients, even while we're socially distanced. Chandru Iyer recounts the event.
Diwali, Divali or Deepawali, known as the 'festival of lights', typically lasts five days and is celebrated during the Hindu Lunisolar month of Kartika, between mid-October and mid-November.
The festival marks the return of the Hindu God Rama and Goddess Sita to their kingdom of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile and the defeat of King Ravana of Lanka, who had abducted Sita. The people of Ayodhya lit up their houses and streets with lamps to mark their arrival, hence the name Diwali, meaning 'row of lamps'.
Diwali also has a very special significance in Jainism as it marks the anniversary of Nirvana, the liberation of Mahavira's soul. For Sikhs, it also recalls the release of Guru Hargobind Singh from incarceration by the Mughals in the 17th century and is celebrated as 'Bandi Chhor Diwas' in Punjab.
For all of us, Diwali symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Something particularly meaningful, given the events of this year.
I have fond memories of Diwali celebrations in India from my childhood. In the lead-up to Diwali, we used to prepare by cleaning, renovating and decorating our home with diyas (lamps) and rangoli (colourful patterns).
Our celebrations included an early morning medicated-oil bath, prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, followed by enjoying a delectable spread of sweets and savories, wearing new clothes and enjoying a firework display, always inaugurated by my grandmother.
Perhaps my favourite part was the distribution of sweets and savories to friends, family members and neighbours, and receiving the same in return.
When we moved to the UK, 12 years ago, we were pleased to see that Diwali is celebrated in a similar way to that in India. Fireworks were the only aspect that was missing, and we have Bonfire Night to replace them.
The Diwali celebrations in Leicester were the biggest outside India and the Indian Diaspora in the UK have always celebrated Diwali with fervour and enthusiasm.
'Diwali symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Something particularly meaningful, given the events of this year.'
Our virtual Diwali reception
Our own South Asia Business Group organized a wonderful Diwali celebration for our clients and friends last year, and we couldn't miss out on following up on the event this year, regardless of current events. India and the UK are connected by many 'C's, including cricket, curry, cinema and commerce, and we tried to include some of these attributes in this year's celebrations.
While we missed the drinks, sweets and canapés this year, we more than made up for them with ex-cricketer Farokh Engineer sharing interesting anecdotes and insights from his career and author Amish Tripathi discussing his various books and the relevance of the Diwali festival in these challenging times. A Bollywood musical session was the perfect way to conclude the reception.
Attended by guests from the UK and India, the virtual Diwali reception was a wonderful way to re-emphasise the message that despite the events in the world around us, we can look to have a sense of normality returning back in our lives, as we all look forward to the year ahead.