08 Nov, 2023
Celebrating Diwali – Festival Of Lights
At RiverStone we strive to foster an inclusive environment where we encourage and raise awareness of Inclusion and Diversity.
One of our Inclusion and Diversity Group members, Natasha Carey, sat down with a colleague, Girinker Aggarwal, Head of Capital Modelling – to learn more about Diwali and what it means to him. Girinker will be heading to India this year to celebrate Diwali with his family – read on to find out what Natasha learnt.
Natasha: What is Diwali?
Girinker: Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights, although it is also celebrated by several religions across multiple countries. In the simplest of forms, it celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance. It’s a massive celebration in India and combines a mix of shopping, cleaning, praying, firecrackers, putting up lights, lighting candles, having family meals and spending time with family.
Natasha: What time of year does Diwali fall?
Girinker: Diwali is typically celebrated over five days, with the third day being termed “Diwali” as the main day of celebration and the fourth day “Annakut” being the start of the lunar new year. This year, Diwali will be celebrated on Sunday 12th November and there is usually a huge build up to the festivities for over a month. Whilst I’ve observed a stronger build up for Diwali in India, there are also celebrations held in various communities across the UK, including in Trafalgar Square, London.
Natasha: Tell me about your earliest memory of Diwali?
Girinker: My parents used to take us shopping, buy us gifts and they also did a lot of cleaning up. Once I got a bit older, I had to do a bit more of the cleaning up! We would put candles, lamps and lights up around the house, and also outside the house for a week or two weeks before Diwali. My parents are both doctors so on the morning of Diwali, we would say prayers in both my parent’s clinics – where they work is an important part of their life, so we choose to say our prayers there. Prayer rituals are similar no matter where you do them.
Natasha: What does Diwali mean to you and your family?
Girinker: It’s about being with family, enjoying time off with a big family celebration and having a family dinner. I’m looking forward to being home this year and for our son to see what Diwali is like in India. He’s only two years old so he’ll probably forget all about it a few weeks later but I’m sure it will be an excellent experience for him. The family is really looking forward to him celebrating his first Diwali in India.
Natasha: You mentioned you are going to India to celebrate Diwali this year; how do celebrations differ between the UK and India?
Girinker: Diwali in the UK is a little bit muted in comparison. In the UK, we would normally throw a Diwali get together for our friends on one of the weekends around Diwali. Where we live now, there are community celebrations, but we’ve only been there for two years and haven’t made our way to one yet, maybe next year. There’s a lot of planning that goes into our Diwali get together, getting dressed up, saying prayers, lighting lamps and enjoying a nice (elaborate!) Indian meal with friends. We really enjoy Diwali in the UK and it is a very delightful experience but it’s quite different to India. In India, it’s the most festive time of the year and Diwali is perhaps the most celebrated festival in the country. We try to go back for Diwali as much as we can. My wife and I haven’t celebrated Diwali in India for a few years and now that we have a little one, we’d like him to be able to understand what Diwali actually means. Being in the UK, he’s never going to realise how big of a thing it is, he’s probably going to associate that with Christmas, but we still want to take him out to India for the occasion, so that he sees what the festivities are all about and appreciates the cultural values associated with it.
Natasha: How do you think your celebration or perception of Diwali has changed over the years?
Girinker: When I was younger, Diwali used to be a lot more about firecrackers. We were very excited to be able to burst firecrackers, not just on the day of Diwali but in the weeks leading up to it. We used to try to get money from our parents to buy more, it used to be a very exciting part of the celebration. Over the years, with more awareness and education around the impact of pollution in India, we stopped with the firecrackers and Diwali has just become more of a family thing. Generally, people are a lot more aware of the pollution in India being quite bad, particularly in Delhi, where I grew up. So there seems to be a trend of people doing less and less firecrackers in more recent years.
Natasha: Diwali is often celebrated with lights and fireworks. What is the historical significance of this?
Girinker: In a nutshell, Diwali celebrates the victory of good over evil, as written in the epic of Ramayana in Hindu mythology. There was a King that ruled Ayodhya who had four sons with three wives. Rama, the eldest son, was next in line to succeed the King but the King’s second wife wanted her son, Bharata, to ascend the throne. She made a wish for the King’s eldest son, Rama, to be exiled for 14 years – as a result, Rama accompanied by his wife, Sita, and his brother, Lakshmana went to live in the forest. During those 14 years, Ravana, the demon King, developed a liking towards Sita and kidnapped her. The story goes that they fought a long epic battle, with Rama (the personification of good) fighting to get his wife back, and in the process defeating Ravana (evil). Diwali is the celebration of Rama, Sita and Lakshmana returning to Ayodhya after their period of exile. There is actually another festival known as “Dussehra”, which is the celebration of Ravana’s defeat, about 3 weeks before Diwali. There are various versions of the story and in many forms: books, TV shows, movies, plays, as well as a short book for young children that I like to read to my son.
Natasha: What are some aspects of Diwali that our colleagues might not know about, but you feel should be taught or shared more widely?
Girinker: The Hindu culture is very elaborate, it goes back a long time, there’s a lot of mythology and history, generally violent with various battles. There are a lot of gods, each with their own stories, and therefore there are multiple deities within the Hindu religion that people pray to rather than one god-like a lot of other religions. Every god has their own celebration and festival; we don’t always get a bank holiday for them but still engage in celebrations and prayers for each god.
Natasha: How can we join you in celebrating Diwali in our offices and / or homes?
Girinker: Chocolates and sweets are always welcome, that’s a good part of the celebration. You can put up lamps, lights and candles in your houses, or even light up the outside of your houses as best you can. Being charitable is also a big part of Diwali – you can donate to your favourite charities, all in the spirit of being good and supporting society.
Happy Diwali, however you choose to celebrate!