Diwali in a New Home by Karan Gupta
Diwali is a festival of light, a celebration of the victory of light over darkness, good over evil. For Hindus around the world, it symbolises the return of the deities, Rama and Sita, to Ayodhya after their exile and when the mother goddess Durga defeated Mahishasura. Similarly, Diwali remains a major festival for Jains and Sikhs as it symbolises the liberation of Mahavira’s soul and the return of Guru Hargobind to Amritsar from captivity in Gwalior respectively.
Though to be perfectly honest, this brief synopsis is a result of some nifty searching on the Internet rather than a deep history I personally connect with.
I do have fond memories of celebrating Diwali in India amidst the love and joy of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. I remember the warm welcoming hue of diyas (terracotta oil lamps) lighting every doorstep, rangoli filled with vibrant colour with each symbolic design patiently perfected over the years, and sugary mithai passed between hands to show appreciation for loved ones. And especially, as many mischievous children do, enjoying the liberation of lighting dodgy non-branded fireworks with the smoke filling the thick autumnal air.
So, it was an adjustment moving to a small town in Wales aged 7 with the family, bouncing around places we called home, but didn’t seemingly spend the time to make a deep lasting connection with. For many years at the start, I gleefully assumed Bonfire Night was actually for Diwali when we would line up amongst the crowds at the displays. To my surprise, it turned out to be a celebration of a failed royal assassination plot instead.
Undoubtedly it can be a testing experience treading the line in your newfound country, whilst trying to dearly hold on to bits of your own culture such as Diwali. Outside of the home, you try understanding the novelty of British Bulldog on a concrete yard and why no one else seems to love cricket here. Conversely at home, the pujas are devotedly carried out, the diyas still have that hue and the mithai is shared, but something just feels different. After years and years here, you lose some of the connection to what you consider ‘our home’, and so, festivals such as Diwali lose a little of their meaning.
I’ve sat in many pujas at festivals and not found that deep spiritual connection with what is said, but which, seemingly resonates with so many such as my parents. To some extent, there is a sadness that this bit of the culture won’t live on through me, but you also come to terms with where one cultural identity ends and the other begins. Admittedly now, I realise there is much privilege and freedom in having this choice to mould yourself into what makes you, you. Though thankfully, the love of mithai, diyas, rangoli and dodgy non-branded fireworks still holds a dear place in my heart.
Happy Diwali to all those who celebrate.