Diwali’s early dawn adds spice to celebrations

1Performers and street foodstalls highlights of event marked by Hindus everywhere.

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is about two weeks away but the celebrations will kick off in Auckland this weekend in a big way.

Aotea Square will be packing in the crowds with its Auckland Diwali Festival, which features local and international Indian performances, Indian street foodstalls, carnival and cultural workshops.

AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio says Diwali is important to the Indian community, who are mainly Hindus.

2Diwali Festival of Lights”Diwali is generally celebrated by all Indians. In New Zealand as part of the diaspora, linkage to an Indian festival, particularly one that epitomises light which chases away shadow, is important as a signifier of one’s identity,” said Professor Pio, who is originally from India.

“Diwali needs to be celebrated taking into account the many aspects which are associated with it – this would mean not only the cultural aspect, but also the spiritual aspect.”

Professor Pio said this would give the appropriate emphasis to Diwali and make it more of a community celebration “rather than a movement towards commercialisation of a festival that is meant to mean the dawning of more light in our lives”.

Not all in the local Indian community are happy with the festival organisers’ decision to hold it on an early date.

Nitin Subhedar prepares a Rangoli drawing using coloured rice powder on the entrance to his home to celebrate Diwali. Photo / Jason Oxenham

“Diwali celebrations in New Zealand have reached an extremely pathetic level wherein this tumultuous day is being exploited as a disgracefully commercial event,” said Veer Khar, president of the Manukau Indian Association.

“Somehow you are allowed to have Diwali even before Deshera, akin to celebrating Easter before commemorating the crucifixion.”

Event organisers Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed), in partnership with Asia New Zealand Foundation, say the date for the festival was decided based on a number of factors.

These included the need for international performers to appear in both the Auckland and Wellington events, availability of venues and Labour Weekend.

Diwali’s name is derived from the Sanskrit word deepavali, which means “row of lights”.

According to tradition, the festival celebrates the victorious homecoming of Lord Rama, the protagonist of the Hindu epic Ramayana and a king of Ayodhya in Hindu scriptures.

When Lord Rama and his wife, Sita, returned to rule Ayodhya after he defeated the demon Ravana of Lanka, people lit the way with small oil lamps.

Rushikesh Ahinave, of the Auckland Marathi Association, says he is supportive of the Aotea Square event, despite Diwali being “generally a religious and family celebration”.

Observance of Diwali, which is one of the most important festivals for Hindus, varies greatly among Hinduism’s more than 800 million followers, he says.

Although many follow the Rama tradition, some honour the marriage of the goddess Lakshmi and the god Vishnu and others remember it as the triumph of Lord Krishna over the demon Narakasur.

The Marathi Association is organising a “Diwali Sakaal”, or Diwali dawn celebrations, on November 1, typical of how the festival is celebrated in western India.

“For those of us who consider Diwali a religious occasion, we will do it as close and as authentic as how it is celebrated back home,” said Mr Ahinave, who moved to New Zealand eight years ago.

“But it is always good to have a public event where non-Hindus are able to join in the celebrations.”

Eric Ngan, Diwali event producer, said this year’s festival aimed toshare “all aspects of the Indian culture”.

For the first time, the organisers will be including an Indian wedding expo, which will have live presentations, demonstrations and displays. Soni Mudaliar, an Indian wedding consultant behind the expo, says Diwali often has a big part to play in Indian marriages.

“A lot of Indian marriages are still arranged, and Diwali is a time when many families meet and talk about match-making possibilities,” Ms Mudaliar said.

The festival will also have an ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 Zone, where fans can meet New Zealand cricket star Sir Richard Hadlee. “As we know Indian cricket fans are incredibly passionate, and it’s an honour to be hosting such a legend of the game,” said Ateed chief executive Brett O’Riley.

Sir Richard is the New Zealand ambassador for the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015.

Renowned international performers the Sattriya Dance Theatre Group from Assam will join more than 800 local artists performing a range of classical and contemporary music, dance and culture.

The group will perform a Diwali piece depicting the triumph of good over evil through the battle of Lord Rama and the demon king Ravana.

“The Auckland Diwali Festival is … a great opportunity for Aucklanders and visitors of all ethnic backgrounds to experience a much loved Indian cultural tradition,” Mr O’Riley said.

Those identifying with the Indian ethnic group in New Zealand increased 48.4 per cent between 2006 and 2013, making it the fastest-growing ethnic group.

According to last year’s Census, Indian is now the second-largest Asian ethnic group, with a population of 155,178.

Diwali sweets and snacks are the festival’s main draw for international student Aanjaneya Krishnan, 24, from Kerala. “Sweets are really important during Diwali,” he said, and they reminded him of home.


Traditions and treats


On Diwali dawn, one of the first things Nitin Subhedar will do is crush a karita fruit under his toes.

“We get up early and crush the karita fruit that resembles a small cucumber on the threshhold, symbolising the killing of Narakasur,” the 49-year-old father of two said.

According to legend it was on this day that Narakasur, a demon who showed no respect for the gods, was slaughtered.

“This is a very important act as it shows we have the power to overcome evil and all the bad things in our lives,” he said.

Mr Subhedar, who came to New Zealand from Mumbai nine years ago, believes it is important to keep Diwali traditions alive.

“We have to do it so it will not be lost to the next generation, especially now that we have moved from India.”

During Diwali in India, people light small oil lamps, called diye, and line them in rows at homes and temples.

Often colourful candles are lit alongside these lamps, and children play with sparklers and fireworks.

Many families draw a colourful rangoli – a decorative pattern made in rice flour – in front of their main doors.

Puja, or worship of deities, is done at homes and temples where prayers and other offerings are made.

Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is the main deity honoured.

Family and friends exchange visits to share feasts, usually comprising a variety of curries, as well as treats such as khil (rice puffs) and Indian sweets.

Before Diwali, Mr Subhedar helps his wife Priya, 46, prepare festive snacks that he takes to work.

“I think it is important that we open up our most joyous festival to our non-Hindu friends and colleagues,” said Mr Subhedar, a procurement officer.

“It’s become a tradition at the office that every Diwali, our Indian staff take turns to bring in platters of snacks, sweets and treats.”




What is Diwali?

The Hindu “festival of lights” which is observed for five days starting on the 14th day of the dark half of the Hindu calendar month of Asvina. It will be marked on October 23 this year. Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepavali, meaning row of lights signifying the victory of light over darkness, good over evil.

What happens at the Auckland Diwali Festival?
Held this Saturday and Sunday, from midday to 9pm at Aotea Square. There will be Indian classical music, Bollywood dance, street performance, an Indian wedding expo, fashion show, cultural workshops, storytelling, Indian food and a fireworks display. There will also be an ICC Cricket World Cup zone.

How many Indians are there in New Zealand?
155,178 Indians and 89,919 Hindus (or 2.1% of the NZ population). Indians make up the fastest-growing ethnic group. The population increased 48.4% between 2006 and 2013.

Source: nzherald.co.nz