I cherish memories of my childhood in India, one of which is the joyous time spent during Diwali - a delightful festival celebrated in late October and early November. Preparations for the festival start weeks before Diwali.
As you might already know, Diwali is a festival of lights, where houses and public buildings are decorated with lights, just like we do for Christmas here. The traditional way is to place tiny oil lamps on windowsills and on paths leading to the house. Electric lights may be used too. We kids were always reminded to be careful to not get our clothes catch fire as we visited other families and friends.
A fun activity in our family was to start constructing paper lanterns well before Diwali. While we youngsters were busy making these lanterns from scratch - there were no kits, only coloured tissue paper, bamboo sticks, twine and glue - the ladies were busy preparing designs for "rangoli."
Both these activities were conducted with great fervour and secrecy, with a sense of competition amongst neighbours to come up with the most imaginative designs and colours for paper lanterns and for "rangoli."
"Rangoli" is the art of drawing colourful patterns and images on the floor at the house entrance.
The designs involve intricate combinations of geometric shapes, and include flowers, leaves and other Indian shapes such as paisley and heart shapes. The sky is the limit for imaginative designs for rangoli.
One of the most exciting aspects of Diwali for us boys was the fireworks. These came in a great variety - sparklers, Catherine wheels, Roman candles, rockets, firecrackers, etc. - and we had to ration our purchases with our limited allowances. My family forbade purchase of crackers and rockets after a scary incident one year: A rocket my brother had set off shot toward the sky, but unexpectedly curved around, came down fast and hit him in the back. Everybody panicked, quick-thinking adults put out the flame and my brother was not seriously injured. In India, there were few government regulations then.
Even to this day, my mouth waters, thinking about sweets made during Diwali. These are cupcake sized desserts in infinite varieties - laddoo, halva, burfi, rasmalai, jalebi, etc. Diwali tradition is to exchange sweets with neighbours, friends and extended family. New clothes are also a part of the tradition.
Stories of Diwali: there are several mythological stories about Diwali, which you can read about at the library or online. Briefly, they are:
Return of Lord Rama to his kingdom following exile during which he slays the evil king Ravana. Rows of lamps are lit by joyous subjects along his return path.
Lord Krishna destroys evil king Narakasura.
Return of the good Pandava brothers after exile.
In Victoria, the Hindu community will celebrate Diwali with exotic dances (classical and folk), music performances and a glimpse of Bollywood presented by the world famous Shiamak Davar group, all on the big stage at UVic's University Centre Auditorium at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. Guests will be treated to samosa, sweets and chai after the show.
Tickets at $15 can be purchased from UVic Ticket Centre, by phoning 250-721-8480 or online at http: //auditorium.uvic.ca
Suresh Basrur practises the Hindu faith, participates in inter-faith activities in Victoria and speaks to audiences about Hindu religion, philosophy and practices.
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