This weekend, when the moon is nowhere to be found in the night sky, thousands of Hindus and Sikhs will light up candles, lamps and fireworks. Literally the “festival of lights”, Diwali is celebrated by Hindus and Sikhs in late October or early November, the exact date being the 13th day of the dark lunar fortnight. This year it falls on Nov. 3.
Most of us have heard of the holiday. Every year there are news stories about Diwali celebrations around the GTA, lit with candles, lanterns and displays of fireworks. But what exactly is the reason behind the occasion? Well, there isn’t just one. Though two religious groups from the same part of the world celebrate it in very similar ways, it isn’t to say they celebrate for the same reasons.
According to the Hindu Heritage Centre Mandir (temple) in Mississauga, the majority of Hindus celebrate Diwali as a triumph of good over evil. In Hindu mythology, Lord Rama’s return from a 14-year exile is celebrated with oil lamps called diyas. In modern day Hindu diaspora, festivities include fireworks, giving offerings, and exchanging gifts.
The Centre will hold a Diwali event this Saturday Nov. 2, which includes a puja in honour of the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi, and the distribution of traditional Indian sweets, followed by a fireworks display in the temple’s parking lot.
Similar festivities go on at most Gurdwaras, or Sikh temples, but not for the same reasons.
Sikhs read from the holy book, the Guru Granth Sahib, in remembrance of their sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind, who in 1619 was liberated from a Mughal fort and brought along 52 innocent prisoners with him, says Gurukirn Kaur of Sikh Dharma.
Many refer to the occasion as Diwali, but the name is actually Bandhi Chhor Divas, which translates to “Day of Liberation.” Kaur says that according Sikh narrative, the night Guru Hargobind arrived back home to the holy city of Amritsar; Hindus were celebrating Diwali with thousands of oil lamps and candles lit. Sikhs, overjoyed at the return of their Guru, also lit lamps and candles in celebration.
The dates for Bandhi Chhor Divas and Diwali have coincided ever since, and Hindus and Sikhs often celebrate together.
Sonia Malhotra gets twice the experience. Her family has roots in both Hinduism and Sikhism.
“We go to the mandir and the gurdwara,” Malhotra says, adding her family is heading to the Hindu Heritage Centre on Saturday and the Shiromani Sikh Sangat in Mississauga on Sunday.
As an avid attendee at the Hindu temple, Malhotra says she sees little difference between how both religions celebrate Diwali, but it’s important to know why they do.
“Most people think it’s just a festival of lights and only the know the significance it has to Hindus. Sikhs have their own significance. The way different kinds of Christianity celebrate Christmas on separate days for certain reasons,” Malhotra says.