Hong Kong’s Hindu community celebrates Diwali, the festival of lights


A family joins in Diwali prayers. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Today marks the highlight of the calendar for Hong Kong’s Hindu community as they celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights.

It also marks the beginning of a new year. Families exchange gifts, feast onmithais (Indian sweets), and fill their homes with oil lamps and candles symbolising the defeat of good over evil in Hindu mythology.

The five-day celebration reaches its peak today, the third day, with the worship of the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.

There are numerous stories on the origin of the festival – it marked the return of the deity Rama from exile; or the defeat of the evil demon Karakasura by the blue-skinned god Krishna; or the incarnation of Lakshmi on Earth.

For Hong Kong’s 45,000 Indian residents, it is a time for both sober reflection and celebration.

“Diwali is a great time to celebrate,” Maharaj Hitesh Bhardwaj, joint chief priest with his brother Pankaj at Kowloon Hindu temple, said. “On this holy day, we fill our entire beings with the light of God and make a true fresh start.

“We pray to goddess Lakshmi to bestow the divine gifts of faith, purity and devotion upon us. If we have those, we will be always rich, always prosperous and always fulfilled.”

As temples host special prayers or pooja, where worshippers consumeprasad, a food offering, and pray to Lakshmi for a prosperous year ahead, the richer members of the Hindu community celebrate at night with lavish cocktail parties and dinners. One of the biggest celebrations in Hong Kong is the annual Diwali Ball held by the Progressive Group Kowloon (PGK), an organisation promoting business links among the Indian community.

More than 500 guests attended the event on Friday at the InterContinental Hotel, entertained by Bollywood film stars, musicians and comedians.

PGK chairman Rajkumar Sabnani said Diwali was particularly important to Hong Kong’s Indian businesses as the festival marks the end of their financial year.

“It is a new year and a new beginning,” said a smiling Sabnani, who also chairs the Indian Chamber of Commerce.

Another event of note was the Indian Chamber’s cocktail evening on Wednesday.

However, not all have been celebrating in such opulent style. An elderly worshipper at Kowloon Hindu Temple smiled wistfully when asked how he would mark the event, explaining that he and his wife found it difficult to travel to friends’ houses at their age and so would be holding a quiet Lakshmipooja at home.

“But goddess Lakshmi doesn’t mind where or how you celebrate,” he beamed. “She is in your heart.”