The houses are illuminated. Cities and towns have come alive in a colourful spectacle of lights. The shopping centres are busy with the merchants’ busiest season. Shoppers are frantically searching for unique gifts and best buys. Families are preparing to come together in the spirit of sharing and caring.

No, I’m not talking about Christmas in North America, but the equally frenzied weeks leading up to Diwali, the festival of lights as celebrated in India. The festival is also celebrated in the Lower Mainland which for more than a century has been home to a growing Indo-Canadian community that tries to bridge two cultures. The festive spirit which envelopes India at this time of the year is not unlike December in North America. And like Christmas, the roots of the festival are
religious. Hindus mark the day to celebrate the return of Lord Rama after 14 years of exile. Sikhs mark the day to celebrate the release of the 6th Guru and 52 other Rajas from a Mogul jail in Gwalior.

Despite the religious base, the celebration has become much more secular as festivities have taken on a life of their own and left no one untouched. And just like Christmas in North America, Diwali in India has become more elaborate and more commercial each year. There are some differences, however. Some of the unique traditions connected to
preparation for Diwali include homes being cleaned, painted and whitewashed. Houses, shops and temples are lighted with candles or Divas — not electric lights. Gambling (two- or three-card poker) is permitted in homes as a way of inviting the goddess of money (Lakshmi) into the house. A few weeks before Diwali, the life of Lord Rama is enacted out on streets in skits called Ram Leela. For many merchants, it is fiscal year-end and time to tidy up accounts. The shopping displays are enhanced under tents and canopies. The streets are full of colourful decorations and
hustle and bustle.

People give to the poor and thank friends and acquaintances with gifts. The culmination of the event is a riot of brilliant lights and the boom and thud sounds of firecrackers being exploded in private homes and public places. You can imagine the intensity of the sounds when millions of people are doing it all at the same time. For those of us who have experienced Diwali in India, the bang is probably the most unforgettable part. As kids, the noise from our own stuff always seemed palatable if not downright exciting. Somehow, the sounds from the neighbours’ fireworks were more jarring, especially when they would persist in partying long after we had finished our stock of sparklers
and crackers. The only way our little dog (a pom) could handle the noise was by sleeping through it with the help of a sleep aid prescribed by our kind vet. Beast or human, you all had to watch your eardrums.

Diwali continues to be commemorated here in Canada, just without the big bang. Indo-Canadian families get together and party. Temples hold prayers. Community agencies and schools try and get a taste of the festival with sweets, henna painting and cultural shows. ”For some retailers, business goes up before Diwali,” says Amarjit Samra, past president of the Surrey-Delta Punjabi market association. The Punjabi markets in Vancouver and Surrey try and recapture some of the spirit by discounting merchandise, having enhanced displays, giving out balloons to children and organizing cultural shows with local talent. ”Firework permits are hard to get here so people resign themselves to sparklers,” says
Samra. For Geeta Bhardwaj who moved to Canada in 1990, Diwali is a much more private affair now. She offers prayers in her home in front of the idol of the goddess of Lakshmi, lights a few divas in the house and shares religious stories with her children.

”Sometimes it is just with family and other times it is with friends,” says Bhardwaj. Even though she misses the excitement, which you could feel in the air at this time in India, she doesn’t miss the noise. Even in India there is a push to reduce the use of firecrackers because of the immense pollution and noise they create. The government is trying to discourage people from spending their hard-earned money on firecrackers, which also cause accidents associated with the celebrations. Whether in India or Surrey, the festival of lights — which this year falls this Thursday — should be a safe and peaceful event. Just like Christmas.

Call: +1 (604) 358 3436

Call: +1 (604) 358 3436