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British Columbia is celebrating Diwali in style and on a larger scale this year. The South Asian holiday is slowly gaining recognition throughout the province, something the organizers of Diwali Fest are excited to see.
The five-day celebration, which brings together music and cultural dance performances and includes emerging artists from the Lower Mainland, will feature performances that can be enjoyed not only in person but also online until Nov. 7. To also honour the holiday, yellow lights will illuminate Vancouver City Hall and Burrard Street Bridge on Nov. 5.
Diwali Fest continues to be an integral part of the B.C. community, especially for those living away from India.
“It allows people to feel connected to their community, especially South Asian newcomers who may not have many friends and family nearby,” said Kriti Dewan, the creative director of the festival. The celebrations have grown and now also include people from different cultural communities.
Diwali Fest, founded in 2004 and formerly known as Vancouver Celebrates Diwali, with only one day of events at the Roundhouse Community Centre, has evolved significantly. Now, the festival runs for five days across Vancouver, Surrey, Maple Ridge and Coquitlam. Vancouver and Surrey host the two flagship events full of dance and musical performances, along with visual arts components.
The South Asian dance styles featured in the festival include bharatanatyam, garba, bollywood and bhangra. Painting traditional diyas (clay lamps) and creating giant rangolis – room-sized, floral patterns on the ground, similar to mandalas – are also included in the festivities.
Diwali, or Deepavali (the preferred pronunciation in the South of India), is a festival in celebration of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Celebrations generally include buying new homes, cars and gold; it’s believed that purchases made during Diwali will result in greater prosperity.
Diwali is primarily celebrated within Hinduism, and the holiday is known as the Festival of Lights. The festival is also celebrated by many other religions, including Sikhism.
In the Hindu religion, Lakshmi puja is done during this time. The puja (prayer) is done to invite prosperity, wealth and goodwill into homes. However, before commencing the puja, it’s necessary to clean and decorate one’s house. According to Anu Sond, a member of Simon Fraser University’s Befikre dance team that will be performing during Diwali Fest, families also often buy new dishes. “The girls in the family are the Lakshmi, wealth and honour to be celebrated, and prayers to the gods are done at the house and outside, at the temple, too,” she said.
In the Sikh religion, Diwali coincides with Bandi Chhor Divas, also known as “The Celebration of Freedom,” and it commemorates Sikh guru Sri Guru Hargobind’s release from prison. Sikhs continue this annual celebration by lighting diyas outside gurdwaras (places of worship) and distributing sweets to all, to invite good blessings.
Although the two religions differ, a common theme in both is “good winning over evil,” said Sond. And the celebration is not only about religion.
“It’s more than that,” she said. “It’s about family and friends being together.”