Diwali In London

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In bygone centuries, Britannia ruled the waves – or so the poets of  Imperial Britain  wrote. Today, in a humorous repartee, the new-gen British writers are saying  that Britannia waives all rules to create the world’s most carefully-nurtured  multi-cultural society! It celebrates Diwali – or Ramzan Eid – with as much  fervour as it does Christmas! The luster of Diwali has also reached the shores  of the USA and Canada, where  sizeable populations of American-Indians and Canadian-Indians are becoming  richer and more influential by the year!

When Mayor of London  Boris Johnson switched on the illuminations at London’s historic Trafalgar  Square on Sunday, October 4, 2009, British-Indians successfully marked yet  another milestone in the prominence and success which the community has  achieved all over the world. From the days of India’s  colonial past till today, the fortunes of the Indian community in Britain – as also in the USA, Canada and other countries – have  changed to create a dazzling miasma of culture and celebrations because of the huge  success stories of the PIOs (People of Indian Origin). Millions of Indians, who  left the shores of their homeland to find opportunities abroad, have now  achieved scintillating success in every imaginable endeavour. Today, in all  these Western countries, people of Indian origin form not only the largest  minority as millions have made homes in their new countries, but they have also  shown rare courage, focus and ability to work hard in often unfriendly and  challenging circumstances. In most countries where Indians live and work today,  the evils of racism, poverty and cultural and religious prejudices are being  opposed by governments and citizens so that more equal societies are created.

The celebration of the  Festival of Lights in countries like the UK,  USA and Canada are examples of this new  multi-cultural mindset which is central to Western democracies and Eastern  brotherhood. In London, with the Mayor of London opening the Diwali festive  season with goodwill messages, dynamic bands of the country playing Indian film  songs, dhol players bringing joy to dancers, dance groups performing to  stunning music and people dressed in their festive finery participating in the  pooja and aarti performed by ISCON members, the mood is set for the coming  weeks. Every major city in the UK  will have its own public celebration of this festival which is the highlight of  the Indian calendar.

The landscape of Britain  is today dotted with innumerable temples and these too, will be the centres of  community worship. Diwali parties, Lakshmi pooja celebrations, rangolis  decorating entrances to homes and offices are other expressions of the festival  in the UK  despite the fact that October is an autumn month and tends to be cold and  shivery.

“Britain is determined to be a working  multi-cultural society,” says Prabha Mehta, a senior manager in the Bank of  Baroda in London,  “All British people – white, Asian or African – know about the festival and its  joyful celebration. They join the revellers at the community centres and in  public places like Trafalgar    Square. Actually, there are only two days in the  year in Britain  when we can light fireworks and crackers until 11 pm. These are Guy Fawkes Day  and Diwali. Indians light up their homes and workplaces exactly as people do in  India  and the sweetshops are full of mithai exactly like in Indian cities. Today,  mithai shops that sell every kind of delicacy as well as savoury snacks can be  found in every British city, more so in London.  People of Indian origin form more than three percent of the population in the UK and  Indian food is now considered a part of the official British cuisine. The shops  are full of diyas – earthen and decorative ones – and people take pride in  lighting up their homes to welcome Lakshmi. There are Diwali parties in homes  which include card-playing, fireworks and of course delicious feasts where  family and friends get together.”

“The reason why  Indian-British people have won this recognition is very special,” says Avatar  Gill, owner of a large grocery supermarket in London’s Southall, “Indians came here a  century ago and took every opportunity to work hard. They never availed of the  social benefits the government offered. An example is that the Southall area  where more than 55 per cent people are Indians has the highest number of  Mercedez cars in Britain.  Indians are counted among the richest people in Britain and are respected for their  education and business acumen. Thus, their festival Diwali, is celebrated by  the whole of Britain.”

Not surprisingly,  British chain stores like Marks & Spencers, Morrisons, ASDA and others deck  up their outlets with festive buntings and lights with all Diwali shopping  offers displayed attractively. Hoardings of Happy  Diwali hang at their gates just as the message of greetings appears ahead  of television programmes sponsored by companies in the UK. Jewellery shops in Indian areas  light up for the festival just like in India and advertise ‘Lakshmi coins’  and other gold or diamond jewellery for eager buyers who look for a muhurat  bargain on Diwali day. Not to forget, many Indian restaurants – some of them  counted among the top 20 in the UK  – offer special Diwali dinners and host parties for well-to-do business  families. New businesses open and old ones celebrate their years of success.

The fact that the  British-Indian community is one of the richest in Britain has given Diwali a special  glow in recent years with most British people joining in the celebrations. Each  borough of London where British-Indian people live in large numbers – such as  Hounslow, Wembley, Harrow, Westminster, Camden and Brent – work with local  schools to create spectacular Diwali programmes. Brent is known for organizing  the largest Diwali procession in the UK. The theme that Diwali  celebrates the victory of good over evil appeals to everyone and most British  people join in the spirit of Diwali. The prominence of British-Indians in the  fields of management, business, finance, education, sports and arts has given  them extra importance in the social arena of their adopted country. Many  British-Indians belong to the third generation – but have not lost their  enthusiasm for celebrating their own culture through festivals like Diwali. As  a matter of fact, the more they live in Britain, the more they seek their  roots and want to identify with their culture to make life more meaningful.

The scenario is no  different with the USA or Canada. Both  these countries also boast multi-cultural societies and racial, religious or  economic differences are sought to be erased by state policy. In the USA and Canada too, People of Indian origin  are the largest single minority and have a colourful culture of celebrations  and food. American and Canadian Indians have increasingly participated in  politics, finance, education and business fields in their new countries and  earned fame and recognition for their contribution. As a result of all these  facts, The President of the USA  officially began to celebrate Diwali in the White House in 2003. Ever since  then, every succeeding President has held a Diwali reception in his official  residence and invited over 150 guests for the party with traditional Indian  food and Indian-style illuminations. The Indian American population stands at  2.3 million and has a growth rate of 38 per cent – the highest among all Asian  communities – which makes the community important in the eyes of American  leaders. Because of the vastness of both the USA, the celebration of Diwali is  restricted to cities where there are large populations of Indians. But here  too, New York, Los Angeles,  Washington, San Francisco,  Chicago and  other cities take the lead in having fireworks and grand parties given by  prominent citizens.

In Canada, the majority of Indian  population comprises Sikhs and Gujaratis. Both these communities love  celebrations and grandeur. Their increasing numbers in Canadian cities have  brought their culture into limelight with several new temples and Gurdwaras  being dedicated by the Prime Ministers of Canada to the people of the nation.  Here too, Diwali celebrations are a part of the cities’ social life and of the  official calendar of the Prime Minister’s home. Family get-togethers, sweets  and fireworks – all these form part of Canadian-Indians’ Diwali celebrations.

“In the years to come,  with Indians living in almost all industrialized countries, Diwali will become  a global festival,” say many, “The attraction of the festival also lies in the  fact that it symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, right over wrong  and justice over injustice. This is the dream of every human being and therefore,  all can identify with the Diwali spirit.”

Diwali in  London is enthusiastically celebrated by people  of all nationalities and religions and not limited to Indians in London or Indian expats in London  (also popularly known as NRIs in London).  Across the capital from Wembley to Southall, Tooting and Forest Gate,  participants flock to exchange presents with their friends and families. Homes  are ritualistically cleaned and decorated and hundreds of lamps are lit. In  essence, Diwali marks new beginnings and a renewal of commitment to family  values and represents joy, love, reflection, resolution, forgiveness, light and  knowledge.

The author was Editor of Femina for 25 years. Vimla Patil is among India's senior  most Journalists-Media persons. She excels in writing lifestyle pieces, women's  concerns, travelogues, celebrity interviews, art-culture pieces about India.

Also see:
1. Pictures of Diwali celebrations in Malaysia
2. Read  about the significance of Diwali
3. To know all about the festival



Diwali in London - fireworks till late night

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Diwali in the US