Unknown to many, India has a very diverse populace, with people from different states of the country having their own unique, albeit similar, cultures. But Diwali (also known as Deepavali), the festival of lights, unites the country as well as the Indian diaspora. Diwali is one of the most notable festivals celebrated by followers of Hinduism, India’s major religion. During the Diwali season, people dress in new clothes, make traditional sweets, visit one-another’s homes and burst firecrackers in festivity. In fact, even those Indians belonging to other religions enjoy the festivities with great joy.
But what is the story behind Diwali? We’ll have to delve into Hindu mythology. Diwali is commemorated as the day Hindu God Ram returned to his kingdom of Ayodhya (in modern day Uttar Pradesh, North India) after successfully defeating the evil king Ravana of Lanka (modern day Sri Lanka) who had abducted Ram’s wife Sita. Ram is regarded as one of the greatest kings in Hindu mythology and was greatly loved by his subjects. Which is why even before he stepped foot in Ayodhya after a 14-year exile during which he was searching for Sita, his people lit up the entire city in traditional clay lamps (called ‘deep’ in Sanskrit) to welcome him home, weeping with joy at his homecoming.
This was how the festival was started. The original Sanskrit name of the festival is Deepavali, which means ‘a row of lamps’, but the festival’s name has been shortened to ‘Diwali’ by popular culture and is the commonly used term by the modern people of North India, though the people of South India still prefer to call it by its original name. The festival symbolises the victory of goodness (represented by the lights) over evil.
UCD’s very own Indian Society (IndSoc) has been celebrating Diwali for years. The festival is the biggest and most well-anticipated event on their calendar. On 25 October 2019, Friday, they brought the Hindu festival right to the heart of UCD, in Astra Hall, attracting a whopping 350 attendees, both Indians and non-Indians. The event started at 6.30pm with an aarti, or a religious ritual often carried out to invoke auspiciousness, and a short address by Mr Somnath Chatterjee, a Delegate from the Embassy of India, Dublin.
Following this was the most colourful and well-received part of the evening – the performances. A couple of weeks prior to the event, IndSoc had invited its members to put up performances if they wished. There were dancers, singers, guitarists and even stand-up comedians who amped up the atmosphere. The audience was highly receptive, and their cheers were resounding after each performance.
No Indian festival is complete without food, and IndSoc did not disappoint at all with the sumptuous North-Indian style 3-course meal they had arranged. The queue for the food snaked all the way across Astra Hall and I was glad that I could use the extra privilege I had as a previous year’s committee member to get my food ahead of the queue (shucks, I was trying to keep that a secret).
The evening ended around 9.30pm with the bursting of sparklers (thanks Dublin skies for halting the rains just in time), a very important cultural aspect of Diwali. The sparklers symbolise repelling the evil and bringing in all things auspicious.
What did the attendees have to say about it? Naz, a Stage 3 Medicine student from Malaysia, said “It was great! I was really looking forward to it because of the food and all the dance.”
Vidhi Saraswat, a MSc in Digital Marketing student, who was one of the dancers said “This event made me feel at home away from home. I was away from home for Diwali the first time and this event brought people together the same close-knit way it does back in India.”
As an Indian who has been to and lived in several countries myself, it always fills me with immense pride to see my vibrant and eclectic culture celebrated with fervour in different parts of the world. It is amazing how one can always find a slice of India, whether it is a cultural festival, food or traditional art form, in any city in almost every country in the world. All this is thanks to the Indian diaspora, the world’s largest diaspora, with 15.6 million people of Indian heritage living outside of India. These people have carried their roots with them wherever they have moved to, which is why the saying ‘You can take an Indian out of India, but you can never take India out of an Indian,’ could not be truer.
Mallika Venkatramani – Arts & Lifestyle Editor