Diwali Celebrations Around the World- By Dr. Latchman P Kissoon
The festival of Diwali has been celebrated for ages and grows in attraction by the year. Diwali means a row or cluster of lights which symbolizes Light over Darkness, Knowledge over Ignorance, Good over Evil and Love over Hate.
Diwali falls on the lunar month of Kartik meaning the month of Ocotober or November on the darkest night of the Hindu lunar year. This year the festival is celebrated on Friday day 5th day of November 2010. This is an occasion for the young and the old, men and women, rich and poor – for everyone irrespective of their religious and economic background who seeks light, knowledge and love.
The festival is celebrated throughout the world to ward off the darkness and welcome the light into our lives and as William Shakespeare said “see yea that light yonder so shines a good deed in a naughty world”. This festival is celebrated on a grand scale in almost all the regions of India and is looked upon mainly as the beginning of New Year. As such the blessings of Lakshmi, the celestial consort of Lord Vishnu is invoked with prayers.
Diwali is also celebrated outside India mainly in Australia, Barbados, Britain, Canada, Guyana, Indonesia, Japan, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar (Burma), Nepal, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago and the United States of America among the Hindus world over. Places as far as Southern America have record of celebrating Diwali.
Diwali celebrations in Australia.
Australia the wonderful island country on Indian Ocean has an estimated 100,000 Indians settled there. Most of them are the follower of the Hindu religion. Though, some of the Indians there are recent arrivals that belong to the affluent sections of the Indian society. Due to the large number of Hindu there, Diwali is one of the festivals that is celebrated with enthusiasm. The lightening of lamps and diyas is a common practice. However, the non-availability of the appropriate material of or some other reason have influenced and given in the touch of modernity in the celebration of the festival of light.
Diwali celebrations in Barbados.
This beautiful little Island is a model for all nations of the world. This is a country of festivals and Diwali is celebrated mostly by the Hindu Community with appreciation from the population of 265,000. Some organizations observe religious and cultural activities and worship at the two Hindu Temple as will be done on Friday evening 5th of November 2010 when members of the business community and their families performed Lakshmi Puga.
Twenty-five years ago the festival was observed at Roman Catholic Covent Hall and on the 13th of November there will be a cultural and religious show to commemorate the Anniversary.
Diwali celebrations in Britain.
The Indians are the second largest ethnic minority in Britain. To get rid of the feeling of missing their homeland, especially during festival times, the Indians there celebrate most of the festivals. The occasion is marked by visit to the local temple to worship the shrine to Lakshmi, which they have made for Diwali. Eating special sweets, burning of incense sticks, lighting the home and surroundings and the blowing of the conch shell follows the prayer session in the Lakshmi temple. The festival here is celebrated according to the Hindu solar calendar hence it falls in the month of October/November, one of the cold, damp and windy months in Britain. But still the enthusiasm of the festival celebration makes the task of leaving small lamps on windowsills or by open doorways possible ignoring the chill. The lamps and diyas play their part in maintaining the atmosphere of Diwali in the home. Diwali is now celebrated in the British House Of Commons.
Diwali celebrations in Canada.
The festival is widely celebrated throughout Canada mainly in Ontario where there is a large South Asian population. The Vishnu Mandir attracts thousands of followers. This year there will be several cultural shows and the crowning of a Miss Diwali Queen.
The Dalai Lama has called on all citizens to light up Toronto.
Diwali celebrations in Guyana.
Guyana, formerly known as British Guiana, is located on the northeast coast of South America. Guyana is 82,978 square miles in area and has a population of about 770,000. Hindus constitute 33% of Guyana’s total population. The Co-operative Republic of Guyana in Southern America celebrates Diwali according to the Hindu Solar calendar. The day of the festival is declared as a national holiday in the official calendar of Guyana. The tradition of celebrating the festival is believed to have been brought to Guyana in the year 1838 by the first indentured people from India. The legends related to the festival are similar to that of India. The celebration of the festival includes, distribution of sweets, illuminating the inside and out side of the house, exchange of greetings, cleaning of houses and wearing of new clothes. The celebrations hold special significance for the people of Guyana. The distribution of sweet signifies the importance of serving and sharing whereas exchange of greeting cards denotes the goodwill of each other. The sweets distributed mainly consist of mithai, pera, barfi, and kheer. The tradition of wearing new cloth for the people of Guyana is significant especially in this festival. They believe that wearing new cloth is the symbol of healthy souls in healthy bodies. Cleaning of their homes and keeping them well illuminated in and outside is a practice meant to illuminate the road for Goddess Lakshmi so that while goddess Lakshmi visits their home she faces no problem of light as the diwali night is regarded as the darkest night of the year. Generally there is a motorcade throughout the City.
Diwali celebrations in Indonesia.
The name Indonesia came from two Greek words: “Indos” meaning Indian and “Nesos” meaning islands. The majority of population follows Islam. Hindus constituent about 2% of Indonesia’s total population. However, the Indonesian island of Bali is famous for celebrating the festival of Diwali, as a majority of the population here are Indians. It is one of the most revered festivals of the locals there. The celebration and rituals of the festival is mostly similar to that celebrated by their counterparts in India.
Diwali celebrations in Japan.
Japan, the land of the rising sun also celebrates Diwali (Deepawali) as the day, which awards happiness, progress, prosperity and longevity in life. The festival here is celebrated in a unique way that is not common in India. Here the people go out into the orchards and gardens and hang lanterns and paper made hanging structures on the branches of trees. Dance and music continues throughout the night. Putting on new clothes and going for boating and broom cleaning of the house are also some of the other related activities of the festival. The places of worship are decorated with beautiful wallpapers to bring in the festive mood and the auspicious beliefs related to the festival.
Diwali celebrations in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
Approximately 1000 Indians reside in the former British colonies of Kenya and Tanzania and Uganda. They form just about 1% of the total population of these countries. However, the influences of this tiny amount of population have considerable economic influence and are a well-respected minority. They also celebrate the major Indian or Hindu festivals of the Hindu solar calendar. As they have restricted interaction with the locals and do not seek converts they usually celebrate their festivals the same way India does. The significance, customs and belief related to the festival of light, therefore is almost same like that of India. Illumination, worshipping of God and Goddess of wealth and prosperity are some of the common practice. Diwali is also declared as a national holiday in Kenya alone.
Diwali celebrations in Malaysia.
Fascinating in its diversity, Malaysia has many mesmerizing charms and attractions. With a population of about 20 million, comprising of a harmonious multi-ethnic mix of Malays, Malaysia promises a colorful potpourri of culture traditions. Most are based on the various religions practices, beliefs and traditions influencing the costumes, festival, ceremonies and rituals. The Hindu community of Malaysia constitutes about 8% of its total population .The community celebrates Diwali as a symbol of triumph of good over evil. The Malaysian people call diwali as Hari Diwali. This festival is celebrated during the 7th month of the Hindu solar calendar. The south Indian traditional of oil bath precedes the festivities. The celebration includes visits to temples and prayers at household altars. Small lamps made from clay and filled with coconut oil and wicks are a common sight to signify the victory of Lord Rama, the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, over the demon king Ravana.Diwali is celebrated almost all over the Malaysia except in Sarawak & Federal Territory of Labuan.
Diwali celebrations in Mauritius.
Mauritius is an island in the Indian Ocean that lies to the east of Madagascar. This beautiful landmass is full of picturesque landscapes and enchanting spots. Mauritius accounts a 63% of Indian majority of which 80% follow Hinduism. Hence, celebration of almost all the Hindu festivals in this island is a common phenomenon. In Mauritius, Diwali celebration is an age-old tradition. It holds special significance for the natives, who believe that Diwali has been celebrated even long before the return of Lord Rama from 14 years of exile and his coronation as the king. The festival is marked by lightening of earthen lamps in rows making images out of the rows. Lakshmi is worshipped as the goddess of wealth and crackers are burnt to scare away evil spirits.
There are several Hindu Temples in Mauritius.
Diwali celebrations in Myanmar (Burma).
Sharing the eastern boarder of India, Myanmar has a good number of Hindu populations. Hence most of the Hindu festivals are celebrated there. Diwali is one of them that are celebrated according to the Hindu solar calendar. The day is celebrated by worshipping of God. A good number of lights or traditional lamps are lit to illuminate the home inside and out side. Delicious foods are cooked and new garments are worn. Traditional dancing and music follow to mark the occasion.
Diwali celebrations in Nepal.
Nepal is a landlocked country nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas. Nepal, a multi-ethnic and multi-lingual society is the only Hindu Kingdom of the world. Diwali is celebrated there with the usual Hindu festivities and rituals. Diwali in Nepal is known as Tihar. Just like most places in India Diwali is celebrated here to honor the goddess of wealth and god of prosperity Lakshmi and Ganesh respectively. The festival of light falls on the months of October or November on the day of Amavasya the darkest day of the year. The festival here continues for five days. Every day has its special significance. The first day is dedicated to cows as they cook rice and feed the cows believing that goddess Lakshmi comes on cows. The second day is for Dogs as the Vahana of Bhairava. Preparation of delicious food especially meant for the dog is a typical characteristic of the day. Lights and lamps are lit to illuminate the entire surrounding and some of the specialty items are prepared to mark the third day of the festival. Fireworks, Lamps and crackers are widely used. The fourth day is dedicated to Yama, the Hindu God of Death. He is prayed for long life. The fifth final day is Bhhaya Dooj dedicated for the brothers who are wished long life and prosperity by their sisters.
Diwali celebrations in Singapore.
Diwali celebration holds a significant place in the calendar of festivals of Singapore. The festival of light Diwali is popularly known in Singapore as Deepavali. This may be because of the fact that most of the Indian population come from Tamil Nadu and are Tamil-speaking. ‘Deepam’ and ‘voli’ are Tamil words. ‘Deepam’ means ‘lamp’ and ‘voli’ means ‘light’. The celebration process of the festival is also a lot similar to that of southern India. Marking the importance of the festival day, most of the offices and commercial institutions / organizations remain closed on this day.
Diwali celebrations in South Africa.
South Africa is located at the southern tip of the continent of Africa. The South African culture is a mix of variety of cultures. It had the largest immigrant Indian community in the world a decade prior to the colonization by the United States of America. The immigrant Indians account of almost one million in the country. But most of them are concentrated in the eastern regions of Natal and Transvaal of the country. About 65% are Hindus, 15% Muslims and 20% of Christians live in this area. Due to the majority of the Hindu population, a number of Hindu festivals are celebrated here. Diwali also holds an important place in the festival calendar of the region. The celebration is more or less same to that of India. Most of the Hindus here are from Gujarat and Tamil Nadu and continue to follow their regional variations of Hinduism.
Diwali celebrations in Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka is on the extreme southeastern point of India. Related to the epic of Ramayana, Diwali holds a special importance for the people here. The festival is marked by illumination, making of toys of enamel and making of figures out of crystal sugar popularly known as Misiri. The sugar crystals take the place of sweets. Burning of crackers in the evening of the festival is a common practice of this festival.
Diwali celebrations in Suriname.
Suriname is a country on the main land of South America a formerly colony of Holland. It recently celebrated CARIFESTA and is rich in cultural traditions. Like Guyana, its neighbour, it has a large population of Indians from India and the festival of Diwali is celebrated with same Pomp and Pageantry. Many Surinamese migrated to Holland and established temples there. Hence, the festival of Diwali has moved to that part of Europe.
Diwali celebrations in Thailand.
Diwali is celebrated in Thailand under the name of Lam Kriyongh during the months of October-November. The festival has almost similar ways of celebration as that of Diwali. Diyas (lamps) made of banana leaves are made and candles are placed on it along with a coin and incense. These are set afloat on a river, which gives a wonderful view together on the water. The festival is not an extravagant affair. People greet each other and wish them happy returns of the day. Distribution of sweets is a common practice on this day.
Diwali celebrations in Trinidad and Tobago.
Trinidad is the most southern of the Caribbean islands, lying only seven miles off the Venezuelan coast, is one of the most exciting, colorful islands of the West Indies. Considered as the land of the Humming Bird, Trinidad and Tobago has a good number of Indian populations. For that reason, Hindu festivals, customs, traditions and observances forms an integral part of the society, which comprises the unique beauty of the twin island state. The Diwali celebration has a unique flavor here in the Caribbean island nation. Here 43 per cent of the 1.3 million populations are ethnic Indians. The Diwali celebrations are usually marked as an occasion to unify the nation that consists of Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Indo-Trinidadians and Afro-Trinidadians. The festival day is regarded as a national holiday. The festival is also marked by scores of functions besides the usual rituals of the festivity. The functions and celebrations also have an official imprint as the Ministers of the Government also participate in the celebrations sometimes. The belief behind the festival is same as of India, which is, prevalence of good over evil. The celebrations continue for over a week and the headquarters of the National Council of Indian Culture at Diwali Nagar becomes thefocal point.
Diwali celebrations in the United Sates of America.
The United States of America is a melting pot of culture and with over a million Hindus from India, Africa and the Caribbean it probably has the largest celebration outside of India. Families travel from Canada to the United States to give thanks to Lord Vishnu and partake in the same manner as the other countries described above. Last year President Obama, for the first time lit a diya in the White House making the United States Multi-faith country.
There are two forms of light one that is reflected on the diya and the other which we see in the mirror. We invite all citizens of the world to light a candle or diya so that we can remove the darkness in our societies and in our inner self.
Latchman Kissoon is an Attorney-at-Law and General Secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (Barbados) Incorporated and former chair person B.I.R.O- Barbados Intereligious Organisation