Festival of lights showcases rich culture

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Durban - KwaZulu-Natal will be illuminated this weekend as Hindus celebrate one of the most auspicious festivals, Diwali. BuaNews takes a closer look at the festival of lights.

If you had to go into any Hindu home during this festive period, you should be accompanied with a disclosure that reads: Senses will be tantalised.

The smells that come from kitchens are delicious and there is an abundance of sweet meats and traditional food.

The preparations begin at least a week before the main day of the celebration. Normally, women shop for all the ingredients to make intricate treats that are enjoyed by families and distributed to relatives and neighbours.

In South Africa, Diwali is celebrated in a day while in India festivities go on for five days.
But Diwali, which is celebrated by Hindus worldwide, has a great significance other than inducing mouths to water.

Also known as Deepvali, the festival's spiritual meaning is about being aware of the inner light that everyone has, according to Hinduism.

It also encourages light to triumph over darkness and good over evil. Therefore, as a symbolic gesture, rows of lamps are lit on the night of the celebration.

Depending on families' traditions, different prayers to deities are offered during the day. This occurs after bath, using three oils is taken.

There are several stories around the origin of the festival, but the message of love, compassion, growth and peace echoes in unison.

Various organisations around the country hold annual celebrations a week before the actual event because the day itself is reserved for family.

Candice Pillay decided to spread some Diwali cheer at a children's home in Durban where she volunteers her time.

"Last week, we put a Diwali programme together in which children from each cottage performed an item, either a dance or song. The MC was dressed in a sari, it was very special for them to experience another culture," said Pillay.

The young mother also used the opportunity to educate the children on the importance of taking care of the planet.

"I used one story where Diwali originates from to tell them how scared the ocean was during the ancient times and how now too they must take care of it and not pollute it," said Pillay.

The children at the home are from various backgrounds, and Pillay said this was an opportunity for them to experience diversity and appreciation of different cultures in South Africa.

Durban resident Nivashni Nair will be ditching the baking part of the festivities this year because of the time factor and rising cost of ingredients.

"I am not baking. Instead, I am making Diwali crackers like Christmas crackers. Each one will have sweets and a religious pendant," said Nair.

But Nair is looking forward to all the other rituals.
"I celebrate the day by spending it with my family. After an oil bath in the morning, we sit down to a hearty breakfast before going out to deliver parcels. The excitement heightens at around 6pm when we put out our lamps and prepare to light fireworks," added Nair.

For Nair and her family, Diwali represents light over darkness and good over evil.

"On this day, we remind ourselves how Lord Rama was able to defeat evil and motivate ourselves to become better people," said Nair.

Nair is referring to the famous epic - the Ramayana - in which Prince Rama demonstrates qualities of loyalty, patience, faith and duty.

Raj Govender, Chief Director of the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Arts and Culture, said the celebration of Deepavali in South Africa should be used as an opportunity to showcase the rich traditional culture that was brought to the shores of South Africa from the Motherland.

Govender feels that the message of the festival need not be confined to Hindus.

The symbolism of light over darkness and good over evil are the key ingredients that are used in the celebrations.

"Therefore this symbolism should be extended to eradicate the negative qualities of racism, xenophobia, cultural insensitivity and other social evils that are currently acting as barriers in our quest towards social cohesion and nation building," added Govender.

MEC for Human Settlements and Public Works Maggie Govender said: "The universal lessons of Deepavali apply as relevantly as ever to us today."

"Today we must embrace the values of thrift over waste, honesty over corruption and hard work over short cuts," the MEC said.

But with the festival comes the lighting of fireworks, and every year this practice has animal right groups and pet owners up in arms.

The MEC asked people celebrating the festival, especially the youth, to practice caution when lighting fireworks.

"We must be careful not to harm ourselves with fireworks and in particular we must ensure that we do not harm others. Animals are at great risk at this time of the year and I urge all of you to behave responsibly in order to ensure that animals are not harmed," she said.