Hindu community celebrates Diwali
The special Hindu week of Diwali is celebrated this week, with the key rituals of the festival being held on Wednesday.
Diwali is India's biggest and most important holiday of the year and will be celebrated with equal importance here in Gibraltar.
The festival is marked over five days with the day of the no moon, today, being the day with the community gathers together, has prayers known Lakshmi Pooja and then feasts on traditional food. At the Hindu temple up to 350 people will take part in the celebration.
Karuna Malkani, Chairpwerson of the Hindu temple, told the Chronicle what happens on Wednesday.
“The whole community gets together on this day at the temple and we have a little prayer service and after that we do a little offering to the Lord of the food,” said Ms Malkani
“The food is all prepared but before the community gets it we offer it up to the Lord and then the community joins together and enjoys the food,” she added.
President of the Hindu Community, Haresh Budhrani, explains that the dates for Diwali changes every year and it is based on the lunar and solar calendar and usual occurs from between mid-October to November 10.
“Let’s consider what we are celebrating. Diwali is the festival of lights and the word Diwali comes from the little lanterns of clay which traditionally people light up in Indian for many centuries,” he said.
“It’s the festival of lights to commemorate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance. The manner of celebration is largely religious, in the sense that on the one hand we are giving thanks to God for all his mercies during the last year and praying for the year ahead for good health, prosperity and happiness. So largely it is a religious feast.”
The days of Diwali
Diwali started on Monday on the day that is known as Dhan Teras, when it is considered auspicious to buy precious metals such as gold or silver as a sign of prosperity.
In addition, retailers or shopkeepers open new books of accounts, even though it may not be the accounting year. Some shopkeepers will have prayers in their shops on the evening of Dhan Teras.
Yesterday, the second day of Diwali, is known as Roop Chaturdashi or in simpler terms Little Diwali.
Today, Diwali, people will do prayers in their homes and while most people in India would not work on Wednesday, locally people do it.
“People start praying and preparing for the first as from the first day of Diwali and it builds up to a crescendo on the third day,” Mr Budrani said.
“Everyone prays in their own home, obviously everyone wants health and happiness in their own home and people but they also pray in their place of work for success and prosperity.”
“In Gibraltar we are very lucky because we are a relatively small community, with 500 or something individuals, we live in a compact city and we have a place of worship right in the middle of town. So at the end of the day, around 8 o’clock, we have a communal prayer where everyone if they can attends after having prayed in their homes in the mornings and their work in the afternoon or evening.”
The event is held in the evening because it is a festival of lights, around sunset.
“Because when you light the tea lights or the lamps, oil lamps were used traditionally, they light up the whole place,” said Ms Malkani.
“It represents the victory of good over evil.”
The goddess of wealth, Goddess Lakshmi, is worshipped on this day, the wealth does not refer to monetary wealth, but that of prosperity with health, family and life, explained Ms Malkani.
“We are praying for essentially the same things, peace, prosperity, good health and we also use it as an occasion for merry making so to speak, to meet and greet family and friends from all over the town,” said Mr Budhrani.
There are no traditional dishes that are eaten on the day here in Gibraltar, but all food is vegetarian and they try to incorporate all the vegetables into the dish. Ms Malkani gave korma as an example of a dish that would be cooked.
The food at the temple is catered but previously and before the community had their temple, it was held at the community centre hall.
“Back then there were ladies who were asked to make different types of food or sweets,” she said.
Although it is not required, many people who attend the temple that day will wear traditional Indian dress wear such as a sari and of any colour.
Tomorrow is known as Anakut Govardhan, Ana is a grain and Govardhan is the name of a mountain. Traditionally in Gibraltar this is not as celebrated as much as the day is in India, Ms Malkani explained.
Friday, will be known as Bhai Dooj. “Dooj is the second day of the moon cycle and Bhai is brother and normally sisters pray for the wellbeing of the brother.”
Prior to the festival there is normally a spring cleaning, “in the houses we tend to clean as a significance of clearing up our energies from within. So you are ready for the Lord to come in and receive the energy positively,” said Ms Malkani.
“If your home is full up of all that you will not receive the prosperity coming in,” she added.
During Diwali, it is traditional to exchange homemade sweets with family and friends.
Locally, Diwali will not end for the Hindu community on the Rock on Friday, Mr Budhrani explains, “because we have been in this part of the world for over a century now we have introduced a bit of western entertainment and we invariable end the Diwali feast with a ball which is very much in tradition with a European celebration here.”
“So on Saturday we party, we have a dinner dance and to make it that much more Indian or Hindu in culture we have Hindu performers, musicians, we get a DJ that plays Indian music and we have a singer who sings Indian songs,” he added.
Mr Budhrani gave some insight into Goddess Lakshmi.
“Hinduism is a multi-deity religion due to the fact in part that it is based around the concept of reincarnation. We believe that there is one God but God has chosen to incarnate himself in the shape of human beings from time to time to point us in the right direction because people tend to get way laid as they go along.”
“One of those incarnations is the Goddess Lakshmi she is known as the goddess of wealth but it is better to speak about her in terms of prosperity. So on the day that we are thanking God for all his mercies during the year gone by we pray for prosperity and peace in the year ahead.”
“We tend to pray primarily to the Goddess Lakshmi, but when we pray to one particular god or goddess on an occasion it does not mean that all the other incarnations of God over the centuries are ignored. It is focused on the Goddess Lakshmi but we also pray to God generally.”
He also explained that which language the prayers are in. “Prayers are mostly in the mostly original Sanskrit language, which is the equivalent to Latin in this part of the world. But, India is such a huge population with languages and dialects you could have prayers in as many languages as you chose to. The Hindu community in Gibraltar has largely descended from Hyderabad Sindh, which is now a part of Pakistan, because we are originally from Hyderabad Sindh our language is Sindhi so it is Sanskrit and Sindhi.”
Diwali, the Festival of Lights is celebrated “based on a story on everything one should expect in life, honouring one’s word, obeying parental command, fighting good over evil. It is a concept that embraces everyone in our community and that everyone can understand and hopefully associate and identify with.”
Mr Budhrani explained, “Folklore goes that a much loved prince was sent into exile for 14 years at the behest of his step mother on the eve of his coronation as king. The father having felt compelled to send his eldest beloved son into exile to fulfil his wife’s wish sent his son into exile. The son thought if it is my father’s wish I will go.”
“His wife and younger brother spend 14 years in exile, overcome a lot of adversity and near the end of his exile his wife was abducted by a demon king and he goes and does battle and it’s the triumph of good over evil. “
“He brings his wife back home just as the exile was ending and there was a lot of merry making, because when he was sent to exile the kingdom was filled with doom and gloom because he was a much loved prince. Then when he comes back peace and prosperity are returned, candles are lit up.”
Main photo Naresh Aidasani