Deepawali or Diwali remains the brightest and the biggest of all festivals you will come across during a trip in the Indian Ocean. Usually known as the festival of lights, Diwali is marked by four days of celebration. During those days the country is illuminated with its brilliance and filled with its joy. Each of the four days of Diwali is separated by different traditions, but what stays true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.
The Origin of Diwali
Diwali is considered to be among the most important festivals of the Indian culture and tradition. Celebrating Diwali is synonymous of siding with light instead of darkness, of the power of knowledge against ignorance and of opting for good over evil. Diwali or Deepawali originates from two Hindi words: “deepa” having as meaning light, and “avali” meaning row, that is Row of Light. The word clearly depicts the brilliant scene before our very eyes. All these lights are thought to guide the Goddess Luckshmi who brings wealth, good luck and wisdom on earth.
Short Story behind Diwali
“Once upon a time there was a great warrior, Prince Rama, who had a beautiful wife named Sita.
There was also a terrible demon king, Ravana. He had twenty arms and ten heads, and was feared throughout the land. He wanted to make Sita his wife, and one day he kidnapped her and took her away in his chariot. Clever Sita left a trail of her jewellery for Rama to follow.
Rama followed the trail of glittering jewellery until he met the monkey king, Hanuman, who became his friend and agreed to help find Sita. Messages were sent to all the monkeys in the world, and through them to all the bears, who set out to find Sita.
After a very long search, Hanuman found Sita imprisoned on an island. Rama’s army of monkeys and bears couldn’t reach the island, so they began to build a bridge. Soon all the animals of the world, large and small, came to help. When the bridge was built, they rushed across it and fought a mighty battle.
When Rama killed the evil Ravana with a magic arrow, the whole world rejoiced. Rama and Sita began their long journey back to their land, and everybody lit oil lamps to guide them on their way and welcome them back.
Ever since, people light lamps at Diwali to remember that light triumphs over dark and good triumphs over evil.”
Diwali is not only the festival of lights but also of sharing. On that day families cook various sweet and delicious cakes and share them with neighbours, friends and family members. Just one bite and those fragrant and exotic Indian desserts suddenly become something you crave, especially during festive occasions like Diwali.
Traditionally, most Diwali sweets aren’t baked; they are instead deep fried. What are they made of? Well, it depends on the region but the usual suspects are milk, chickpea flour, semolina, coconut and rice. On their own these ingredients may not sound too appetizing but an experienced cook can easily transform them into delectable sweets flavored with cardamom, saffron and rose water.
Some cakes you should not miss are the Gulab Jamoun, Barfi, Jaleebi and Ladoo. You will definitely come across other cakes from different regions that are as delicious as those that we will mention later in the article.
The Significance of Lights, Cakes & Firecrackers
All the simple rituals of Diwali have a significance. Diyas (Small earth lamps) are lighted up on the pathways to the house and electric chasing lights are hung to the houses so as to welcome light into the house. This illumination of homes with lights and the skies with firecrackers is an expression of obeisance to the heavens for the attainment of health, wealth, knowledge, peace and prosperity. The sharing of cakes is done to spread the happiness that is the very heart of celebrating Diwali.
From Darkness Unto Light…
During Diwali, lights illuminate every corner of the world and specially the Indian Ocean. In each legend, myth and story of Deepawali lies the meaning of the triumph of good over evil; and it is with each the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts, that this simple truth finds new reason and hope. Here are some of the places where Diwali is celebrated and that you can visit during your holidays in the Indian Ocean!
How Diwali is celebrated in the different parts of Indian Ocean?
Deepavali, in the recent years, became the flagship event of the Tamil community in Reunion, particularly in the city of Saint-André. It is no mistake: Deepavali is the Festival of Light as holy light is spread around the island to ensure the victory of good over evil … But it’s not just in the vicinity of Saint-André that you will come across little glowing diyas! All around the island the houses are lighted up and glows with millions of colours while cakes are shared and prayers are made to ensure better days.
In Mauritius too Diwali commemorates the victory of Rama over the demon Ravana, as well as that of Krishna on the other demon Nârakâsuram, but it also marks the beginning of the hot season. In this island, the festival is considered as a National Festival that is celebrated by the whole population. Most houses are lighted up with wonderfully arranged chasing lights and diyas on every house entrance. Sharing of cakes is a tradition that no one misses and firecrackers are heard all throughout the night. Curepipe remains the most lighted place on the island since it is the City of Lights in Mauritius, yet in the north too you will come across beautifully decorated houses in the village of Triolet.
In Sri Lanka, an island whose history is deeply tied to the mythology of Ramayana, this festival is also very important. Goddess Lakshmi is particularly honored, the illuminations are not forgotten, and the food aspect is one of the most popular amongst this population, since Diwali is the occasion of a festive meal, but also to have fun with figurines of sugar that is consumed like candy.
In Malaysia, where Hindus make up about 8% of the population, the Diwali festival is called Hari, and is a holidayduring which Malay, Chinese and Indian descendants tend to fraternize. Prayers for the family, tribute to seniors and oil bath, are inherited traditions of India, including Tamil Nadu. Note however that the fireworks and other fireworks are excluded from compliance with local laws.
Yet, Diwali is celebrated in many other places around the globe: From Guyana to South Africa, Nepal to Britain or Australia to Kenya, all countries where Indian groups of greater or lesser importance population live.
If you are away from the sights and sounds of Diwali, light a diya , sit quietly, shut your eyes, withdraw the senses, concentrate on this supreme light and illuminate the soul.