On Oct. 26, scores of people in South Asia celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. Countless Canadians celebrated as well, in a tradition that is growing in significance and influence in our country.
Diwali, also known as Deepavali, gets its name from the combination of two words: “deep,” meaning light, and “avali,” meaning row. Put this together and you get a row of lights, which are seen illuminating cities all around the world during the Diwali festival.
Diwali is the largest festival in India, and is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists.
Light is a common theme throughout the Diwali festival. Darkness is seen to represent ignorance, as the transition from darkness into light signifies the triumph of good over evil.
Diwali is celebrated for somewhat different reasons in different faiths.
In Hinduism, a large part of the Diwali celebration is the remembrance of Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana and returning to the kingdom after 14 years of exile. Diwali is also a time of forgiveness and charity. People are called to forget any enmity they feel towards one another and share with their families. Family members purchase new clothing for each other. Employers are also called to share with their employees during this time. Diwali is meant to be a time of unity among all people.
Diwali also plays a prominent role in Sikhism, which is a faith practised by about 27 million people. During Diwali in 1577, the foundation stone of the Golden Temple (Harmandir Sahib) in Amritsar was placed.
Forty years later, during Diwali in 1617, the revered sixth guru, Guru Hargobind, was imprisoned. Two years later he was offered his release and worked to secure the release of some of his fellow prisoners. The deal was that he could take all the prisoners who could grasp the skirt of his robe. When the time came for his release, Guru Hargobind emerged with 52 prisoners, all of whom were holding on to strings he sewed into his clothes. This was known as “Bandi Chhorh Divas” or the Day of Freedom.
For Jains, Diwali is a time to honour the attainment of Nirvana, the transcendence of suffering, by Mahavira.
During Diwali, some Buddhists celebrate the conversion of Emperor Ashoka to Buddhism.
Diwali is already celebrated by nearly one billion people worldwide, and as the Indo Canadian community in Canada continues to grow, Diwali will no doubt play an important role in the fabric of our nation.
In a world in which far too many people suffer, the core message of Diwali is an important reminder that by embracing our inner-light we can bring light into a world that desperately needs it.
Spencer Fernando is the Comment Editor of the Manitoban.