South Africa boasts one of the largest communities of Indian descent outside of India itself. It is a community that contributes a cacophony of vibrant colours, rich flavours and aromas, and a strong sense of family to our Rainbow Nation. On 14 November Diwali, the holiest holiday in the Hindu religion will be celebrated. This story, from the Ramayan, signifies one of the origins of Diwali.
There once lived a King who ruled over the kingdom of Ayodhya. The King had three wives, Kausalya, Kaikeyi and Sumitra. Kausalya is the mother of Ram, the King’s firstborn and favourite son. Ram was known to be avatar of the god Vishnu, who is one of the Holy Trimurti. Kaikeyi is mother to Bharata, the second son, and Sumitra bore twin sons, Lakshman and Satrughna. Kaikeyi did not like the idea that one day Ram would be King of Ayodhya. She wanted her son to rule instead. And so, she plotted against Ram and had him banished from Ayodhya. Ram, with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, left Ayodhya and lived in exile in a forest for 14 years.
During this time, Sita was abducted and taken prisoner by the evil ruler of Lanka, Ravana. With the help of Hanuman, Ram defeated Ravana in an epic battle of good versus evil and was reunited with Sita. It was after this battle that Ram, Sita and Lakshman began their journey back to Ayodhya. The people of the land were so happy and grateful that the evil King Ravana was defeated and that Ram was returning home. They lit tiny diyas or lamps to lighten the journey, which also symbolised the triumph of light over darkness. Ram returned to Ayodhya a hero and assumed his rightful place as King.
There are many other stories, but holistically Diwali has come to signify a celebration of light and of good overcoming evil. Diwali is widely celebrated in the Indian communities across the world. It is one of my favourite celebrations in the year as it brings so much happiness and represents such positivity.
The excitement for Diwali begins weeks before. And, since childhood, this has not changed. We start baking (and eating) well in advance. There is excitement in shopping. Be it for new clothes or for the baking and cooking ingredients or for the fireworks. I grew up experiencing this every year that we celebrated. When I moved to Johannesburg and the sense of community was not the same as in Durban, I sorely missed it. I’ve often said that going back home was generally exciting but arriving for Diwali was on another level of happiness.
On the day, there is lots of activity. There is a spread of yummy things to eat from the moment you wake up. The phone doesn’t stop ringing or beeping with all the well wishes from family and friends. And one of my highlights is the family gatherings which is filled with a lot of love, laughter and so much of food! It is also the day when you visit everyone to give them a Diwali parcel of eats. The visits are sometimes brief but so treasured because you are seeing family and friends you don’t necessarily see all the time. It makes the day even more special. In the evening, we perform a prayer and light our lamps. A lamp is placed in every room of the house and the outside is decorated as you please. And finally, as the darkness of the night descends, the skies are lit up with the most beautiful display of fireworks. It culminates the day of celebration for Ram returning home.
Diwali is a good reminder that there is always light even in the darkest of times. Good will always overcome bad. The story from the Ramayan happened and was written about thousands of years ago, yet the lessons are still so relevant today. The essence of Diwali has not been lost through the ages and it is something as Hindus, that we hold dear. As my grandmother used to say, “Diwali is the day Lord Ram passes through your home and brings his blessings”.
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GOOD THOUGHTS • GOOD WORDS • GOOD DEEDS
I’m a “bean counter” by profession and a part-time lecturer. I have a huge wanderlust and I’m almost never without a book, whether it’s reading or journaling. I believe love is the greatest thing we have and kindness and compassion makes us all better humans. I’m very proudly South African and blessed with the most amazing family.
Quote: “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light” Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)