The Festival of Lights

‘Deepavali’ or rather known as ‘Diwali’ is celebrated by Sikhs and Hindus all around the globe. Most of the people I know are under the assumption that Diwali is the first day of the new year in the ‘Hindu Lunar Calendar’. ‘New Year’ for the Hindus  is known as ‘Ugadi' while ‘New Year’ for the Sikhs is known as ‘Vaisakhi’. Similar to the Gregorian Calendar, the ‘Hindu Lunar Calendar’ consists of twelve months. The year in the Hindu Lunar Calendar starts with Chaitra, followed by Vaisakha, Asadha, Jyaistha, Asadha, Shravana, Bhadra, Asvina, Kartika, Agrahayana, Pausa, Magha, and ends with Phalguna. 

There are ten Sikh Gurus. The combination of all these Gurus is known as ‘Guru Granth Sahib’. Guru Amar Das, third Guru of the Sikhs, institutionalised this as one of the special days when all Sikhs would gather to receive the Gurus’ blessings at Goindwal Sahib. Goindwal Sahib, located in Amritsar, is the most significant place for the Sikhs to pay homage to their religion.

‘Diwali’ evolved during the life of sixth Sikh Guru, Hargobind Sahib. The Guru and fifty-two other Kings were imprisoned by the Muslim Emperor, Jahengir. At that time, the Emperor was in power in India. The Asian Sikhs badgered the Emperor to release the Guru and fifty-two other Kings. The Emperor agreed to release the Guru and the fifty-two Kings on one condition; whoever was able to hold the Guru’s shirt would be set free. Guru Ji had made a gown with fifty-two strings attached so that the Hindu prisoners could hold onto it. 

The Sikhs were very delighted as their leader was freed. The Guru's mother was overjoyed with the freedom of her son, she ordered food and sweets to give to everyone. The worshippers released multi-coloured lit candles on the water at the Golden Temple. The Golden Temple is a place of significance for Sikhs to show their devotion to ‘Waheguru’. The Golden Temple has four entrances to show that everyone is welcome regardless of skin colour, race or ethnicity.

Bhai Mani was a great Sikh scholar. In 1737, Bhai Mani Singh begged for permission from the Muslim governor of Lahore for the Sikhs to celebrate ‘Diwali’ at the Golden Temple with Rs.5000 as tax. Not enough people attended as they were afraid of the Mughal authorities and as a result an insufficient amount of money was collected. The Moghul authorities arrested Bhai Mani Singh and publicly executed him in Lahore, Pakistan. This great martyr showed his courage as he recited Sukhmani Sahib while he was cut limb by limb, joint by joint and remained in high spirits throughout the torture. He did not lose faith in Sikhism although he knew that he was facing his last breaths.

In the modern era, oil lamps known as ‘diyas’ are used to illuminate the future and to dispel the darkness of the past. On the first day of ‘Diwali’, Sikhs go to the temple to pay homage to their Guru and also receive blessings for a brighter year ahead from the Guru. Some donations are given to the ‘Gurudwara’ for people who would have ‘langaar’. For Sikhs, Gurudwara is a place of worship for the followers of Sikhism. ‘Langaar’ is free food served to the public regardless of skin, race, religion, ethnicity or social standing. Children are given new clothes and money as gifts from the elders. Fire-crackers, sweetmeats and ‘bhangra’ are a must on 'Deepavali'. Bhangra is a folk dance and is more famous among the Punjabi culture.

So,‘Diwali’ for the Hindus is a little bit different compared to how Sikhs celebrate it. To prepare, a lot of ingredients and fireworks are bought. My family’s signature dish is ‘Gulab Jamun’, which is similar to a Chinese dumpling but is much sweeter. My mother normally has to make thousands; for charity, to give away and for the guests who visit our houses during this merry occasion. There's nothing more delightful than the array of aromatic smells  that fills up the house created by the lentils, known as ‘dahl’ in Hindi.

On to house preparation! It is best to have the whole house neat and tidy. ‘Diwali’ cleaning is exactly like spring cleaning; you throw away old, unwanted belongings and clean every single inch of the house until it is spotless. One of the things I love most about Diwali is getting to decorate the house. Putting banners up, arranging tea lights and making a beautiful ‘Rangoli’. A ‘Rangoli’ is a pattern created on the floor using coloured rice. You can get stick on ones or actually draw on the floor and make it yourself. Confession time; for the past two years, I have been using stick on ones. Don’t be fooled, it took a lot of hard work!

Finally, after all the hard work of cooking and cleaning, It’s Diwali day! Getting ready in your best clothes, finally getting to rejoice with the extended family in a fun and festive way. The day normally starts off with visiting the temple to pray. After that, we all bond over the lovingly prepared food. Simultaneously, the married couples give envelopes of money to the younger ones. This is definitely the highlight of 'Diwali' for majority of the kids who do not fully grasp the context of 'Diwali'. 

If you thought lunch was exciting, dinner is twice as exciting! Our dinner parties normally last hours. It’s a lot more than just eating. There is talking, laughing and, last but definitely not least, fireworks! The teenagers go crazy with rockets, fountains and so much more! The night normally ends with a bunch of happy faces and full tummies.

In a nutshell, there are more to Diwali than money and food. It’s about building a bond with God and your family. About putting all your differences aside and embracing them together. About appreciating how light can help us through times of darkness.

Written by Namrata Gopwani and Jasmeen Kaur


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