Diwali in Trafalgar Square

I remember learning about Diwali in primary school. Such was the way of going about teaching religion in British schools that we spent a good deal of time learning about other nations’ religions and not very much on the UK’s (admittedly nominal) religion, Christianity. Fine by me; I was raised Catholic so I already felt pretty up-to-date with what Christians had going on and was happy to learn about a few more gods.

Anyway, the Hindu (also Sikh and Jain, now I come to Google it) festival Diwali was my favourite of all the festivals of all the religions we studied, largely because I got to paint a picture of the goddess Lakshmi standing on a lotus (I couldn’t have been more than about nine. Don’t judge me). And my main memory of the topic was how colourful everything was.

Diwali is known as the Festival of Light, because of the tradition of lighting small clay lamps, and as a general concept is about the triumph of good over evil and of light over dark. In more specific terms, Diwali celebrates several events, including, for Hindus, the return of Lord Rama who vanquished the demon king Ravana. Expect floating candles, tons of food, bright, new clothes and a good helping of joy. Diwali marks new beginnings, commitment to family and love.

It is estimated that there are well over a million Hindus and Sikhs in the UK, so it is no surprise that Diwali is celebrated every year in many homes throughout the city. It is one of the most important religious events of the Hindu calendar, and the third Sunday of October will see Trafalgar Square come alive with Diwali celebrations, giving Londoners (and anyone else who fancies coming along) a taste of the Festival of Light.

Celebrations in Trafalgar Square start at about 2pm, but the food court opens at 1pm serving veggie food and drinks, and at 1.30 the organisers begin breaking out the sarees. Volunteers should be on hand to wrap you in them – it’s a knack. The sarees are available on a first come, first served basis, so if you want to get well and truly in the spirit and all dressed up then get there early.

As a sort of warm-up, from 2pm until 3pm there will be garba dancing, and then the opening ceremony will kick off at about 3.15pm. The next few hours after that will be a mix of performances, dance, music and devotional songs, before the closing ceremony and farewells round everything off at about 6.30pm. A nice chance to experience another culture’s way of celebrating, and you can even be in the pub by half seven if that’s how you like to prepare for your Monday mornings. Or you can go home full of the peace and joy of Diwali.

Diwali on the Square takes place on Sunday 16 October in Trafalgar Square. For more details, check out the Diwali in London website.

Image courtesy of Raven3k

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