After 2 years of pandemic darkness, Sask. Hindus personally celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights | Catch My Job

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After spending the past two Diwalis in lockdown due to the pandemic, Saskatchewan’s South Asians are coming together in person on Monday to celebrate.

“There are many festivals in Hindu culture, but Diwali is one of the most important,” said Kulwant Rai.

The Saskatoon resident has been celebrating Diwali in Saskatchewan for the past 45 years.

Diwali, the festival of lights, is celebrated across India and other parts of South Asia and remains an auspicious religious festival for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. (Don Somers/CBC)

Diwali is usually celebrated two weeks after Dussehra.

According to the Ramayana, one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and an important text in Hinduism, Dussehra marks Lord Rama slaying the ten-headed demon king Ravana, who had kidnapped Lord Rama’s wife, the goddess Sita.

“Diwali marks the day Lord Rama arrived in his kingdom of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. On that day, ‘diyas’ or oil lamps are lit to celebrate his arrival on that new moon night or ‘Amavasya’,” said Rai.

“Another reason to celebrate is welcoming Goddess Lakshmi into our homes, who represents wealth, wisdom and prosperity.”

Kulwant Rai says with the growing number of South Asians in Saskatoon and the province, Diwali brings together more newcomers. (Don Somers/CBC)

Since then, Diwali is celebrated across India and other parts of South Asia on Amavasia and remains an auspicious religious festival for Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

“Diwali is the festival of lights. Like Christmas, we celebrate Diwali with lights. It is the victory of good over evil.”

Rai said it is the most important festival for Hindus in Saskatchewan.

“With an increasing number of South Asians in the city and province, Diwali is a time for the community to connect.

Rai said that during the pandemic, the celebration was reduced due to restrictions, but now “it has resumed in the true sense”.

“Until January of this year, things were uncertain.” Diwali is very different this year. You can meet people, hug and be with friends and family. It’s all about reviving those memories from home,” said Meenu Sharma.

“Diwali is a festival that my family always looks forward to.”

Meenu Sharma says Diwali is her and her four-year-old child’s favorite festival of the year, mostly because of the sweets. (Don Somers/CBC)

Sharma usually visits his local temple to chant prayers and contribute to the community.

“We start cleaning our homes months in advance. We get decorations, new pillow cases, bedding, everything is colorful and we cook snacks,” she said.

“Sweets are the most important thing. For children, Diwali is just that and toys.”

Sharma will cook a variety of curries, vegetable sabzis and desserts like carrot pudding, gulab jamuns and kayu katlis.

‘It is a holy month for us’

Although the main celebration falls on the day of Diwali and the associated festivities usually last for five days, celebrations in the Hindu community have been going on for the past month.

The Hindu festival of Navratri, which comes with nine nights of fasting and dancing to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, precedes Dussehra.

The festival is dedicated to the nine forms of the Hindu goddess Durga. Each day represents a different form of the goddess. Navratri — derived from “nav” meaning nine and “ratri” meaning night — is most often celebrated in autumn, although it comes again in spring.

The Garba, a traditional dance originating from India’s Gujarat province that involves large groups of people dancing in circles around a statue of Durga dressed in cultural attire, has been canceled in the years of the pandemic.

But this year many Garba nights were organized across Saskatchewan. CBC spoke with some of the attendees at one such event.

“It’s all about female energy,” said Manish Shamnani, one of the organizers of the event. “People dance in concentric circles. As the night goes on and the rhythm picks up, we dance faster.”

Manish Shamnani says Navratri is all about female energy and the growing South Asian community in the province attracts many people to such festivities. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

Shamnani said that when he moved to Saskatchewan in 2000, there were only a few members of the community, but now 1,200 people come regularly from all pockets of the province.

Kruti Patel has been doing garba since childhood to celebrate woman power.

“Diwali comes after Navratri, but this is a holy month for us,” she said.

Kruti Patel loves doing Garba and says that every year with more and more new faces at the dance, it feels closer to home. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

Ishita Patel said this time of year ferments the festive spirit in everyone.

“Old or young, we all dance. It connects us,” she said. “Navratri begins the transition from bad to good, and Diwali is the festival that marks it.

Ishita Patel says Garba is all about dancing to fleeting beats with a festive feel in honor of Goddess Durga. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

For many, it is a way to find a home in a foreign country.

Prarit Arora, an international student at the University of Saskatchewan, said that even though he comes from a different culture, the garba night is something he enjoys.

“Being abroad connects us all, we don’t have our parents here, but these events bring us together. Diwali at home and here may be different, but the people are the constant.”

Prarit Arora misses his family in India, but says Diwali and the people who celebrate with him make him feel at home. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

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