Make it a Diwali with a difference this year. Bring in a touch of Oz
If one were to ask you what you love the most about Diwali, you’d probably say, the firecrackers, the diyas, the mithai, the presents, the new clothes… perhaps the card games. If pressed further you might add, decking out the house in traditional Indian-style decorations – the thoran, the rangoli, the silver ornaments for puja. And then no doubt you’d go, oops, sorry, of course the puja as well!
But as Indians who have lived outside of India for whatever length of time, the real essence of the celebration at Diwali is not restricted to these alone. Diwali is no longer primarily the festivity at the vanquishing of the evil ten-headed Ravana, or the return of the good king Ram to Ayodhya after 14 years in exile, or, as some may say, the return of the Pandavas at kartik amavasya after 12 years of banishment by the Kauravas.
Nor is it about the start of the new financial year any more (a tradition that began hundreds of years ago, probably after the religious connotations of the festival became less relevant).
For us, at heart, what keeps this enduring tradition alive and kicking, is the spirit of community. There is a desire to reach out to friends, close and not so close, and spend some quality time together, laughing and making merry, enjoying a mega feast. Settling in in a new country, friends fill up the vacuum created by not having the family close by. Friends become family as one experiences the challenges – and joys – of establishing oneself in a new country. Hardly surprising then that we surround ourselves with friends on joyous occasions such as Diwali.
In the Festival of Lights, it is the brightness of our friendships that illuminates our lives. Out here in Australia, it is our friends that make Diwali a fun and meaningful time.
We catch up with friends at the large-scale Diwali events organised by community volunteers, or have friends over for our own big do at home. Sometimes we even somehow manage to do both!
In short, it’s big time party time.
Most readers will have hosted a giant Diwali party at their home at some point in their life here in Australia, while some do so every year as a tradition.
Typically, it is at our annual Diwali event that the ‘Indian’ in us comes out in all its glory. The women will bring out with glee those wedding-style ensembles; the men will not need to be pushed to air that Bollywood-style kurta pyjama complete with scarf; even the kids will agree to wear those ‘itchy’ costumes grandma sent from India. The food will be rich and as authentic in taste as possible. And the house will be filled with diyas and candles and incense and fresh flowers.
And yet, while we may have begun to include our non-Indian friends at our private Diwali bashes, perhaps it’s time to go mainstream.
How about an Aussie Diwali this year, for a change?
The lucky thing about Hinduism and our way of life, is that there are no strict rules, so we can improvise. And perhaps more significantly, inclusion of all kinds, is welcomed. Given that Indians in Oz are known for their ability to integrate well, here’s to another way of standing out with our unique ‘Indian-Australian-ness’: Diwali Oz style!
AN AUSSIE-THEMED DIWALI
So you’ve organised dozens of parties at your place, and been to a few dozen yourself. No doubt the underlying unspoken theme at each party is how best to outdo the previous one. Well then, here’s your chance.
Make it a Diwali with a difference: bring in a touch of Oz.
Here’s how you could do it.
Think akubra hats, koala costumes, something kangaroo, sporting paraphernalia such as blow up cricket fingers, perhaps life-savers. Celebrities: think Julia Gillard wigs, Tony Abbott budgie smugglers, Steve Irwin stingrays, or dare someone to turn up as Dame Edna or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
Décor / Themes
Your themes could be something beachy or coastal (although nautical would probably be too extreme for landlubbing north Indians). Native vegetation, or seasonal produce, could be another option, and perhaps, if you’re willing to go all out, you could have a James-Bond style casino theme.
A bit of thought going into candles and candle decorations might be worthwhile, given that these are the essence of the festival. A beach-inspired decoration could be created with sand, shells and blue stones, crafted inside fishbowls, glass candle vases and on glass or mirrored trays. Stack on the tower or pillar candles, taper candles, votives, tealights or floaters. Use a combination if you like, and vary the colours. Check out our samples for different candlescapes to pick ideas from. Shell candles can look cool, sure to impress those younger guests!
If you’re not the beachy type, take the Australian native path: pick from a selection of pinecone candles, beeswax candles with gum leaf designs, twig-decorated candles, or candle holders fashioned from banksia seed pods featured here.
Then again, you could keep a seasonal theme. It’s spring here in Australia as Diwali comes round each year, instead of being on the cusp of winter as in India, so there’s an abundance of fresh produce on the supermarket shelves. Get crafty with a piece of fruit or vegetables, and fashion your own organic candle holders. The apples are the simplest because they are easy to carve, though the pumpkins might take a little longer! The orange or mandarin peel candle could be tricky, especially if you want to use the pith as wick, but the effort could be worth it as the end result, you’ll agree from our pics is stunning. If you buy custom-made candle holders from specialist candle shops such as Party Lite or Dusk, you could add fresh fruit and flowers inside your candle vases whole, and then top off with votive or floating candles.
The casino theme could go down rather well at Diwali, especially if you follow the Punjabi tradition of indulging in a spot of gambling, which, may we remind you before you protest, is sanctioned at Diwali. And of course your adopted culture has its own gambling traditions, such as Two-up. Enough said! So start off with Two-up, and then transport your guests to the world of high rollers. Move on to a fully-fledged casino set up, with games such as blackjack, roulette and poker. Of course, you’ll play with fun money, to get the thrill of the real casino, without the risk. Think however, what to do with the kids if you are bachche wale log!
Now here’s another avenue for some ‘Aussie-fication’. The thoran, a door decoration, is the Hindu equivalent of a Christmas wreath. Hung at the top of the main threshold, it is intended as a festive sign of welcome. It is traditionally crafted out of mango leaves (a symbol of plenty) and marigold flowers (a symbol of passion and creativity). Today however, it is made with cotton, satin, crystals, wooden beads and other materials, but its intent remains the same.
As Indian-origin Australians, surely we can make ours with pinecones?
Gumnut and gum leaf thorans, there’s another idea for you.
Rangolis – floor paintings with powder or floor decorations with flowers – are another sign of welcome that could be given the Aussie treatment. Native flowers, seashells, gumnuts, pinecones, banksia candles can all look great in your flower carpet rangoli.
Come on, give it a go!
Diwali Themed Party Games
Now this is probably different from the Diwalis you spent in your childhood. No longer content with the khaana-peena and the naach-gaana, today’s parties have to have the mandatory party games too.
What else but candle-based contests during Diwali time, in which you light and then blow out candles? Below are some of our versions. Of course some might say, probably rightly, that the religious underpinnings of the festival prohibit you from blowing out diyas on Diwali night, given that you are supposed to let the light in and show the way in for Goddess Lakshmi. So beware of your guests’ spiritual sentiments before you plan these party games, or better still, avoid them unless your event is before or after the actual date. A note of caution though: be very careful with the flames.
- Blow out row of candles in a set period of time. The player that blows out most, is the winner.
- Light and then blow out candles in a row.
- Work with box of candles. Light each individual one, and walk it over to table at other end of room. Walk back to box and repeat. All candles must be transferred and lit, in a set period of time.
- Blindfold participant in front of table with lit candle on it. Turn them around a few times, and then get them to blow out flame.
- Repeatedly light and blow out candle with single matchstick till it goes out.
- Candles and bangles: Work with sets of bangles in five different colours, and the same colours in candles. Light all candles, then put bangles carefully around candles. Candles and bangles must be sorted in the same colours.
- Shoot candle flames with water guns.
Here’s to evolving concepts in Diwali. Tell us on our Facebook page how you went if you put some of these ideas to use, or if you came up with some ideas of your own. Send us pics of your Aussie-themed candlescapes, Aussie thorans and rangolis. Email us your recipes of bush ingredients cooked up in curries, and those Indian inspired cocktails, and details of your Diwali themed party games.
Have a happy, safe and fun celebration. Diwali Mubarak!