Diwali 101: How to Celebrate the Festival of Lights | Catch My Job


Diwali is one of the biggest celebrations among South Asian cultures and at least one Edmontonian is inviting others to join in.

Shaminder Parmar runs the Diwali 101 course at the Meadows Recreation Center. After growing up in Brooklyn, New York, he wanted to bring more cultural openness to his southeast Edmonton home.

“We have so many different communities here,” Parmar said CBC Radio Active. “But I don’t think we know as much about each other as we could.”

Over two years, he has presented to more than 2,000 people online and in person, answering the basics about the Festival of Lights.

Radio Active8:25Preparing for Diwali

Diwali celebrates the beginning of October 24, when the new moon is at its darkest. The festival is a celebration of light that often includes: fireworks. Shaminder Parmar is from the Laurel community.

What is Diwali?

The word Diwali means “row of lamps” in Sanskrit.

It is held in October or November as a multi-day celebration. This year, the main date falls on October 24, when the new moon is at its darkest.

“The main purpose is light,” Parmar said.

“So if you have light, if you have gatherings and if you have fun – those are the things you need for Diwali.”

Where do they come from?

“The thing about India is that Diwali is celebrated in a thousand different ways in many cultures for different reasons,” Parmar said. “It should be an all-out celebration.”

In Hinduism, the holiday is a celebration of Lord Rama’s victory against the demon king Ravana, and the focus is on celebrating the triumph of good over evil.

A man stands dressed in a long-sleeved tunic with printed flowers.  He is on a laptop and presenting to the audience behind the camera.  Behind him, a TV screen is showing a PowerPoint presentation, with a slide that says Diwali 101.
Shaminder Parmar leads his course Diwali 101. Since he started in 2021, he has introduced more than 2,000 people to the history and meaning of the festival of lights. (Reported by Shaminder Parmar)

For followers of Jainism, the holiday is a celebration of the attainment of nirvana for their Lord Mahavira and a celebration of knowledge.

The Sikh festival of Bandi Chhor Divas is also celebrated along with Diwali, focusing on freedom and the triumph of goodness. Parmar says the name means “liberation day”.

How do you celebrate?

With a focus on light, it’s no surprise that fireworks are involved – but Diwali celebrations are as diverse as the communities involved.

Prayers and events are held in Hindu Mandirs and Sikh Gurdwaras around the world.

“When they go to those religious places, they meditate, they volunteer in the community kitchen, they sing and they sing hymns,” Parmar said.

Events start days before Amavaisa — the day of the new moon — and offerings are made, including sweets and goods.

Diya, a candle, being lit outside the Sikh Temple in Whitehorse. Diwali. The lights represent the triumph of light over darkness and the power of good over evil. (Danielle d’Entremont/CBC)

There are also secular activities. In Rangoli, people use colored powder or sand to create designs. Although there are traditional patterns, there are also modern approaches to the practice.

“I’ve seen people make Superman,” Parmar said.

People also make clay lamps called diyas and dress in colorful clothes. There are celebrations and dinner parties all over Edmonton – even Diwali parties in nightclubs.

“Light, gathering and fun are three things,” he said. “And entertainment is one that is so flexible and personal.”

What about desserts?

Restaurants and sweet shops in Edmonton produce millions of sweets every year for Diwali, filling decorated boxes.

“It’s like in many Western cultures you wear flowers for almost every occasion,” Parmar explained.

“In South Asian culture, if you don’t bring sweets to a party or when a baby is born or when it’s a birthday, it’s almost disrespectful.”

Ganesh Sweets is an Indian sweet shop in southeast Edmonton that is packed during Diwali.

“Let’s say whatever we do in a month, we would do that kind of scope in two days,” director Ashu Arora said.

This amounts to about 50,000 to 60,000 boxes of sweets per day.

The store is decked out for Diwali, with gold tassels hanging from the ceiling and purple helium balloons floating around that say
Ganesh Foods, in Edmonton’s Mill Woods neighbourhood, says during Diwali they do months worth of work in a few days. Indian sweets are a key part of the celebration. (Reported by Ashu Arora)

Treats range from Burfi, a thick milk-based sweet, to Gulab Jamun, a deep-fried donut made with rose water. Jalebi — a fried sweet made from maida flour — is soaked in milk and used as an offering at Diwali celebrations.

“It’s a collective day that everyone celebrates,” Arora said. “So that’s why it’s such a big, big deal.”

How can you appreciate (and not respond)?

Parmer emphasizes that Diwali is an inclusive festival.

The Vancouver Canucks have released a special Diwali jersey for warm-up artist Sandeep Johal, and Edmonton’s local school board is working on a multi-faith calendar that will include the holiday.

Born and raised in North America, Parmar learned Western holidays only in school. He says changes like this will hopefully inspire others to share their celebration.

Through Diwali 101, he offers others the education he never received.

“If this presentation had been around when I was a kid, I would have learned a lot more about my own culture and I would have been a lot more confident in who I am,” he said.

“It’s comprehensive.” You don’t have to be of South Asian origin to participate in Diwali because the theme is all about practicing kindness.”

It’s enough if you can handle the light, he says, and share some of your own this season.


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