There will be giant cook-ups, prayers, diyas, partying and mithai-sharing galore, but also a touch of activism and charity this Diwali
Friends and family
My wife Guneet and I try to make a big deal out of Diwali for the sake of our kids Ansh and Ayaan, who are nine and three respectively. Hum chaahte hain ke hamare traditions kaafi had tak maintained rahe (we’d like to keep our traditions maintained). This year, like always, we’ll do our paath (prayers) at home and light our candles. Then we’ll go to the gurudwara and join others as they light the diyas and sparklers. We’ll come back home and call our family and friends in India.
Over here too, with our close circle of friends, we get our kids to exchange gifts. For the little ones, this makes it our version of Christmas. We also like them to know that the adults exchange mithai at Diwali!
The sparkle of diyas
On Diwali night, Rose and I fill our home with the sparkle of diyas. The neighbours come round to ask what it’s all about, and we tell them. And then share a plate of mithai, of course! We are not Hindu by religion but we are Indian, and Diwali is a wonderful Indian tradition that we both enjoy very much. We observe all Indian traditions and customs, and savour each one!
This year we’ll be lighting a special diya for our brand new grandson Louis.
Social inclusion: Festivals for all
Diwali for me is a busy time. I usually try and attend a few festivals and in Perth there are a lot to choose from. Indian Society of Western Australia’s now week-long, multi-venue festival always gets huge numbers. It is dynamic, commercial and busy. The Swan Festival of Lights multi-day festival right on the banks of the Swan River is uplifting and spiritual, and always with some stunning performances.
For the first time this year I will be going to Agrawal’s Diwali in Cannington which should be fun. I always eat a lot of good Indian food over the period and then wonder why when I step on the scales. I always wish my Indian friends (and strangers) Happy Diwali. Ten years ago it used to garner a look of surprise when a Caucasian said “Happy Diwali”. Now with the growing understanding of other cultures and the increased ethnicity in Australia it doesn’t really raise so many eyebrows, but I still do it.
I read such a nice letter to the editor in a local newspaper last week. The author was saying that instead of banning religious activities in schools (like Christmas plays and carols and so forth so as not to offend anyone) they should encourage it and then celebrate all the other festivals like Diwali and Ramadan and so on. It was an inclusive idea so people can appreciate each other and their beliefs more. Although they make me gain weight, the more festivals that focus on the good, the better. Happy Diwali.
It’s kind of a special Diwali for Sahil and me as we’re expecting our first child shortly. It’s only our second Diwali in Oz! Last year we had a gala celebration with plenty of friends and puja and sparklers and a large communal meal. This year will be more subdued, but still exciting as my parents will be here from Mumbai then. Our celebrations will be a blend of North and South traditions, as that’s where we are both from. My husband’s kind of Diwali is high on food, and my kind of Diwali is high on rituals and customs. So we’ll have a trip to the temple as well as entertaining at home; diyas and candles as well as rangolis and decorations. Plus, plenty of food! We’ll try to keep as many traditions going as possible! But the gambling and the cards sessions, no, I don’t think I’d encourage that… it’s not my kind of thing at all!
Our first Diwali
It’s my very first Diwali with my husband Prateek so it’s going to be a rather special one! I’ll miss him on the day itself though, because Prateek is a fly-in-fly-out engineer with Rio Tinto and works on site during the week. But we’ll be going to the gurudwara together on the weekend, and then join the crowds at the Swan Festival of Lights and at ISWA Diwali mela. We will also be catching up with friends. We’re having a communal meal and I’ve offered to make gol gappas – mostly because Prateek loves them a lot!
I’ve been in Oz only a few months but have figured out where to buy all the Diwali stuff. I do want to make a big deal of it like we used to in India, but I will miss home, the immediate family, the extended family, the home-made mithai and the patakas!
Diwali is family time
This will be the second Diwali together for me and my husband Mayuran. We will actually be overseas this time for Diwali, but I can tell you what we would typically do. We would celebrate as a family with my parents who live close by, along with my sister and her family. Traditionally, our first stop is to the gurudwara for mattha tek and prayers, and then we light some candles and sparklers just outside along with everyone else. We then go home to my parents, and sit down at the home mandir. Dad would lead the prayers (we have Sikhism and Hinduism in our family) and we would sing traditional songs like Om Jai Jagadish Hare. We would then eat sweets and light the oil lamps outside my parents home. My sister and I would go to our own homes and light oil lamps and leave them outside before getting back together for dinner. My husband Mayuran is Sri Lankan by background and has embraced our culture with open arms. Diwali is a special time for our family and even though we will be overseas this year, we will still find a way to celebrate.
Eat, Pray, Love
Diwali is probably the only time in the year when we as a family observe proper traditions of offering prayers, lighting candles and conducting certain rituals passed on by my mother.
Starting from the frantic rush to find kesar (saffron) and silver coins (chandi ke sikke) from Indian stores, to making the kadha parsad (sweet offerings) and lighting up the house with candles, the preparations tend to switch on to high gear around this time of the year.
If Diwali falls on a working day, it gets quite hectic to finish work, rush back, get things in order, complete the little Diwali rituals, pray and then go to the Gurudwara Sahib to seek blessings and light some candles.
I am all for having a public holiday on Diwali; after all, it is the Indian equivalent of Christmas and in multicultural Australia, anything is possible. If we can get a public holiday for Cup Carnival and Grand Final, why not have one for the largest Indian festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil?
Note to self: bring this up when the politicians are tripping over themselves making all sorts of promises prior to next elections.
Our little Diwali ritual involves writing on the wall or a piece of paper, which our son quite enjoys as the only time of the year that mum does not complain about keeping things spotless. We sprinkle saffron, milk and rice on everything including the silver coins and pray for peace and prosperity. I learnt this from my own mum and am happy to continue the tradition.
Ours is a joint family so there are always elders around to give more meaning to the celebrations with their blessings and presence. My mum-in-law likes to celebrate Diwali with her seniors group as well. She generally leads the prayer segment at home on Diwali day. My father who lives with my brother also looks forward to this day and likes to spend it with the whole family being together. We always go to the Sikh temple on Diwali night where the children get to play with sparklers and light candles safely and we get to offer our gratitude through prayer.
Leading up to Diwali and beyond, the social calendar completely ramps up with card parties, dinner dances, Diwali melas and numerous invitations to each of these. The credit card gets a sound beating as new clothes are purchased for everyone. All the festivities typically revolve around food and counting calories goes out of the (well-lit) windows.
Giving is an integral part of the festival and my mum used to donate sweets to orphanages in India. She insisted on distributing the food herself to ensure that the kids got to eat everything and the unscrupulous orphanage staff took nothing away from them. I have continued that tradition to a small extent here by donating to local charities and rotating my choice every year.
20 years in Australia and the festive spirit is well and alive as we continue to eat, pray and love at Diwali.
A social cause at Diwali
Family and friends and plenty of food, especially sweet stuff… that’s what Diwali is about at my place. My wife Sirisha teaches our kids Aditya and Anushka the puja elements as well but it’s the fun and food that appeals to them at this point in time!
As they grow up, they will learn that Diwali is a special time for us in a different way. It is a time when we do our bit for those less fortunate than us. As a young man I was very affected one Diwali by the plight of child labourers in the firecracker industry in India. It spurred me to go on an awareness drive to shun this product that is dangerous in so many ways, and so wasteful too. In a personal capacity, I have been working with some kids who used to work in firecracker factories, to lift their station in life. The oldest child I am sponsoring is a girl now in Year 6. She and the others are getting a decent education and will hopefully never have to go back to their old lives again.
Fireworks are a strict no-no with me. Other than the exploitative nature of their manufacture, they also pollute the environment with the smoke and the sound – Diwali is a Festival of Light, not Sound!! I also encourage my friends in India to do their bit: if you are not able to sponsor a child out of this industry, at least take a decision not to buy the stuff they are forced to make.
Let’s all have a peaceful Diwali.
Diwali, when the activist in me comes out
Diwali, Deepavali for us Telugu people, used to be a big deal back home… new clothes, exchanging sweets with neighbours, flowers in the house, diyas everywhere. I went off crackers and fireworks when I found out in Year 10 about child labour in the industry, and ever since it’s been a cracker and firework free Deepavali back home.
Australia though, is a different story. I’ve been here ten years and every single year I tell myself that I’ll go to Federation Square for Diwali celebrations, and every year I forget!! I pass by the city and see a poster for Diwali and a date that has passed and without exception, slap my forehead and curse under my breath. Next year, I tell myself.
Except last year, I signed up to volunteer with White Ribbon at their Diwali stall. It was very interesting walking around asking Indian men to sign the no-violence pledge and get people to make donations. After the volunteer shift I got to go around and sample some of the food and watch some of the entertainment. Some of it made me cringe – I wonder why our entertainment is so Bollywood-centric – but then I guess it is more accessible. I hope they change this, this time round.
And then there was the year I went hunting around to Indian stores to find neem flowers to make pacchadi… ooh wait, that was for Ugadi, not Diwali. Whoops, wrong festival. I really should make more effort. I blame my Jewish housemate. If she were Indian, I’d be more in touch. So, all her fault really. Oh, but we did celebrate Deepavali once when she visited India and spent a few days with my family in Hyderabad. I lifted my fireworks ban (atithi devobhava, of course) and we burst bombs, fired rockets, and marvelled at the beauty of fireworks. That makes me nostalgic now. Maybe I’ll light a few diyas at my door this year. And buy pheni to eat with milk, like we do at home. And make polelu. I love cooking, what better occasion than Deepavali to try something new!
Cooking up a storm!
I made a batch of mohanthal today. Yes Diwali is a few days away but I’ve got a long list to get through, and at 81, I have to pace myself, you see. I’m going to be making besan laddoos, gulab jamuns, kheer and much more this year.
Diwali is a Festival of Eats as much as it is a Festival of Lights!
Diwali is very much a stay-at-home affair for my husband Ram and I. Our daughter Geeta comes visiting with her own family. We do a havan and then talk, laugh and eat!
I lay out my spread on the table and then the home is open for visitors who keep dropping in all day. It is mainly our Indian friends that come to wish us Happy Diwali. (The non-Indian friends, I call a few days later).
In the evening we say our prayers and then light diyas which we place all over the house, in every room as well as outside. You could say we do it to invite Lakshmi in, or perhaps to fill our lives with light, the light of goodness and virtue.
We also call our son Pramod who lives in Germany. He’ll say ‘Look Mum, I played this santoor aarti’ or some such, just to show me that he is doing his bit for Diwali! I miss him at our Thursday dinner sessions at my place.
The day after Diwali is the Hindu New Year. We usually go over to our daughter Geeta’s.
I love this festive time of year. My best wishes to you for a Happy Diwali.
A tradition passed on
Diwali is a major event annually at my place. If it’s a weekend, we’ll have some 75 people over. Weekday Diwalis are much smaller, with only about six close family friends, all of who have kids of similar age. We’ve been getting together for some twenty years now.
We do a Gujarati style pujan, with a Ganpati sthapana first, then Lakshmi pujan with the silver coins etc, and then chopda pujan in which we seek blessings for our books. (Traditionally, Diwali is the start of the new financial year – traders would close their account ledgers for the previous year and open new ones. The new books would first be blessed by priests. Following this tradition, I usually buy a diary for the next calendar year, say 2016, and place it in the altar to be ‘blessed’).
There are rituals we do for five days preceding Diwali, including lighting of diyas morning and evening, and getting the house ready and clean for the big day. There’s rangoli of course, and we also put up electric lights outside the house, like Christmas.
We set this up as a routine so our kids would learn the Diwali tradition, and our culture and our values. My own son Shubhang is 20 now and participates whole-heartedly. He does the rangoli too! And at puja, he knows, like the other kids, to bow before the gods and then to the parents and elders.
There are Diwali gifts too, and the kids have been exchanging gifts among themselves for years. When they were younger, the sparklers were a big deal.
It is wonderful to get together with all our close friends at Diwali, and it is particularly pleasing for us that we have passed this tradition on successfully to our young ones.
The economics of Diwali
Diwali at my place has got to be catered to my Aussie husband John’s understanding! My dad lives with us so he conducts the family puja in our mandir at home. He reads the mantras and then explains them in English for the benefit of our kids Elina (who’s 13 and a half) and Alec (who’s 5). The kids bring out their Indian clothes for our little ceremony and afterwards we have halwa for prashad.
Later on, we have our ‘shop’ activity. This is something my brother and I used to do at Diwali as kids. The kids set up ‘shop’ with sweets or toys, something small for each member of the family, and we ‘purchase’ these from them with money. The kids get to keep the money as their gift. This is our version of the economic aspect of Diwali, all respect to Lakshmi mata!
If Diwali falls on the weekend, it suits us so much better! A weekday Diwali, like this year, will be quite rushed. Still, it’s going to be fun!
A dance for the goddess
Diwali has always been about getting together with friends and family, feasting, and filling our homes with light at night.
Growing up in India, we used to all descend upon my eldest uncle’s home, all of us from the entire clan! The cousins would get together and have fun, and the mums and aunties would cook up tonnes of food and mithai. It was plenty of fun. Diwali night was special puja (prayers) and we’d watch as our parents offered silver coins to their chosen deities. Then we’d have diyas and candles and the firecrackers would begin to blast off! Later on, we would all sit down to play cards, with small amounts of money of course – it was all just token, so as to bring Lakshmi (the Goddess of Prosperity) into the home.
Today in Australia I still do the good food, friends and sharing bit! I do a little puja too. And then I dance. As a dancer, my special kind of worship has to have an element of dance in it!
I perform a little Odissi routine for the goddess.
My partner Zlatko watches as I dance; he sits down with me at the puja too. I usually prepare some sooji halwa with saffron and we eat this as prashad. Zlatko likes it. We are both fond of pista, gulab jamun and rasagulas.
We also catch up with friends at Diwali. This year we are celebrating together with many families.
Zlatko knows a bit about Diwali, that it is the Festival of Lights and that it was a time of welcome for Rama and Sita as they finished their exile in the forests. He learned about it when we travelled to India together four years ago. India was celebrating Holi at the time and he became interested in our festivals. Last month we went to Odisha and he enjoyed it very much.
For my part, I love celebrating Christmas and Easter with him and his family.
‘Not A Diwali’ party
I’m looking forward to the big cook up.
Come Diwali every year, my wife Cheryl and I host a mega party for all our friends and family. There’s often in excess of a hundred guests. (Two hundred invites went out this year, but only 180 are finally coming!)
It’s not really a Diwali party, because we don’t celebrate Diwali in its traditional sense. It’s just an excuse to get 200 of our closest friends together and party all night! I hail from Kerala, and Onam, our big festival, has just passed, so the celebratory mood is still in. Plus Cheryl and I lived for a few years in Delhi and got into the whole ‘diyas and firecrackers and mithai’ thing!
We both do all the food ourselves at our big bash. Some 17-18 dishes… yes, that’s right! This year we’ve planned 20, actually! We cook in large earthen pots that I’ve brought in from my home in India; they’ve belonged to our family for some hundred years. These add a different dimension to our celebration, and give our guests a peek into our culture and traditions.
The menu is usually dominated by seafood: it’s a given, seeing as I come from Kerala! This year however I’ve concocted a special dish, in honour of India’s prime minister. I call it Modi Beef. Of course there’ll be plenty of saffron in it.
(This is in solidarity with the street beef parties held across India lately.)
And for the first time this year, we’ll have a bit of bhangra.
Cheryl and I have been hosting this event annually for some fifteen years now. We started small, with about ten guests, and then it grew from there. Now our friends and colleagues wait for the invite – I mean that literally, just to see how blasphemous it will be, ha ha!