Time for Diwali goodwill to shine again
The BBC, consistently one of the most even-handed observers of Britain’s many ethnic communities, has put together a fine explanatory article about Diwali, the Festival of Light, for its online religious pages.
A festival that Sikhs, Hindus and Jains celebrate, Diwali fell this year on Saturday October 17.
For Sikhs, says the BBC, it is particularly important because it celebrates the release from prison of the sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, and 52 other princes with him, in 1619.
The Sikh tradition holds that the Emperor Jahangir had imprisoned Guru Hargobind and 52 princes. The Emperor was asked to release Guru Hargobind which he agreed to do.
However, Guru Hargobind asked that the princes be released also. The Emperor agreed, but said only those who could hold on to his cloak tail would be allowed to leave the prison. This was in order to limit the number of prisoners who could leave.
However, Guru Hargobind had a cloak made with 52 pieces of string and so each prince was able to hold on to one string and leave prison.
Sikhs celebrated the return of Guru Hargobind by lighting the Golden Temple and this tradition continues today.
Time for spring cleaning
In Britain, as in India, the festival is a time for thoroughly spring-cleaning the home and for wearing new clothes and most importantly, decorating buildings with fancy lights.
The date of Diwali is set by the Hindu calendar and so it varies in the Western calendar. It usually falls in October or November.
Diwali is also used to celebrate a successful harvest.
Jains celebrate the attaining of Moksha (Nirvana, or eternal bliss) by the founder of Jainism, Lord Mahavira.
The name of the festival comes from the Sanskrit word dipavali, meaning row of lights.
Decorated with oil lamps
Diwali is known as the ‘festival of lights’ because houses, shops and public places are decorated with small earthenware oil lamps called Diyas. These lamps, which are traditionally fueled by mustard oil, are placed in rows in windows, doors and building exteriors. Nowadays electric lights are often used in these displays.
In India oil lamps are often floated across the Ganges – it is regarded as a good omen if the lamp manages to get all the way across river.
Fireworks also play a big part, although in recent years there has been a move against them because of noise and atmospheric pollution and a number of accidental deaths and injuries.
Like Christmas in the West, Diwali is very much a time for buying and exchanging gifts.
Traditionally sweets and dried fruit were very common gifts to exchange, but the festival has become a time for serious shopping, leading to anxiety that commercialism is eroding the spiritual side of the commemoration.
In most years shopkeepers expect sales to rise substantially in the weeks before the festival.
With thanks to the BBC
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