A joyous festival eagerly anticipated by people of Indian origin and multiple faiths such as Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, Diwali – or Deepawali or Divali – is celebrated on the 13th or 14th day in the lunar month of Kartik Masa (October or November) on the darkest night (Amavasya), which this year falls on Sunday, 12 November.
For many Indians in Canberra, even 10,000 km away from their homeland, the festival carries the same joyous significance but is coupled with an impetus to spread the message.
Often referred to as the ‘Festival of Lights’, Diwali has ancient origins in mythology and the seasonal harvesting of the kharif crop. Though the key message centres on good winning over evil, according to Canberra Punjabi Sports & Cultural Association (CPSCA) volunteer Sunita Dhindsa, it’s really about knowledge defeating ignorance.
“To me, it’s about looking inside to discover how each of us can bring about transformation and fight the ignorance that’s within us and around us,” she says.
Diwali celebrations differ throughout the Indian subcontinent depending on the traditions of each region. Entire neighbourhoods light up with lanterns, fireworks and festive vibes as families and friends come together to banish the darkness.
In Sikh culture, the Bandi Chhor Divas (Sikh Diwali) is also a celebration of freedom and taking a stand for human rights. It marks the story of the sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind Ji who, along with 52 kings, was imprisoned at Gwalior Fort by Mughal Emperor Jahangir. When Emperor Jahangir offered to release Guru Hargobind Ji, he refused to go unless the 52 kings were also released.
“The story goes that the Emperor told Guru Hargobind Ji that he could leave with as many of the kings as could hold onto his cloak. So he had a cloak specially fashioned to ensure all 52 could leave without bloodshed,” Sunita says.
Diwali also holds extra weight for devotees of the Jain religion, as it marks the day the 24th ‘Tirthankar’ (spiritual teacher) and founder of the Jain faith, Lord Mahavir, achieved ‘Nirwan Diwas’. This means on this day, Lord Mahavir was liberated from the cycle of birth and death (Moksha).
For Jain community leader Praveen Jain and his fellow Jain devotees, in addition to a day of celebration, Diwali is also spent reflecting on Lord Mahavir’s teachings of non-violence, truth and compassion, which remain at the core of Jain philosophy.
“Diwali for Jains serves as a reminder of their commitment to these principles and their reverence for the great spiritual leader, Tirthankar Mahavir,” he says.
But Sunita says you need not follow any religion or faith to subscribe to the Diwali message.
“I think it’s an invitation for each of us to focus on our humanity and transformation,” she says.
“Let us focus on sharing the resources we have, discovering the humanity within us and getting in touch with our inner light. Let us continue on our journey for truth, knowledge and the infinite potential we as humans have.”
This year, the festivities kicked off in October, with celebrations organised by the federation body representing the country’s Hindu organisations, the Hindu Council of Australia (HCA) and Canberra Hindu Mandir (CHM). But the party is far from over.
Here are our top picks for how you can celebrate Diwali this year.
When: Saturday 11 November, 7 pm to 9 pm
Where: Margaret Dimoff Art Gallery, 36-38 Grey Street, Deakin
Cost: Adult $55, child 12 and under $10, child five and under free, book here.
The FunKaars are set to light up the Margaret Dimoff Art Gallery with Bollywood fusion jazz music for Diwali. Tickets include the amazing live Bollywood music performance and complimentary drinks and nibbles will be served. There will also be plenty of space to dance.
Funkaars means ‘artists’ in Hindi. Led by Mumbai-born Karisha Shah, the newly formed Canberra-based band has created a sound of Eastern and Western cultural fusion incorporating a range of instruments from dobro to saxophone and tabla, and vocals in English and Indian languages.
When: Saturday 18 November, 6 pm to 10 pm
Where: QEII Park, Queanbeyan River
Cost: Free entry.
Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council has partnered with community groups to stage one of the biggest events on the local Diwali calendar this year. The event is free and open to everyone to come along and celebrate the Festival of Lights. Kicking off with a warm Indigenous Welcome to Country, expect cultural performances from the different communities that celebrate Diwali, including music, dancing, food and activities.
This all culminates in the highly anticipated lantern parade, starting around 8 pm the lantern and journeying around the riverwalk, finishing up at QEII park. Entertainment for the evening will finish with fireworks at 9:20 pm and an amazing DJ and drummer performance on stage until 10 pm.
When: Saturday 18 November, from 9 pm
Where: Transit Bar (Gig City), 143 London Circuit, Canberra
Cost: Tikka Stand Combo $33.50 (includes meal and drink), general $19, student $18; book here.
Billed as an “electrifying celebration of Diwali”, Transit Bar (Gig City) has set the stage for a Bollywood Club Night on Saturday, 18 November.
The night promises dazzling lights, vibrant music and incredible performances to immerse you in the Diwali festival spirit with friends and family. Ticket and meal combos will be available.
When: Saturday 18 November, 6 pm to 11 pm
Where: Charles Weston School, 80 Woodberry Avenue, Coombs
Cost: Members $25, non-members $45, concession (pensioners and under 12s) members $15, concession non-members $35; book here no later than Sunday, 12 November.
RMMC – the association for the Marathi-speaking members of the Canberra community – will present a fun, family event to celebrate the Festival of Lights. This is a ticketed event and the last date for registration is 12 November, to help with catering arrangements.
Activities will include a lantern-making competition, raffle, Dandiya/Garba (dancing), balloon artistry, kids face-painting, glitter tattoo and a photo booth. Delicious food will include Diwali ‘Faraal’ (snacks and sweets), Pani Puri Thela, dinner and cutting chai.
Mandir Society and Deepavali Mela
When: Saturday 19 November, 1 pm to 7 pm
Where: Weston Community Hub, Hilder Street and Gritten Street, Weston
Cost: Free entry
The Deepavali festival spirit comes to life for the entire family at this major community event. There will be face painting, henna tattooing, friendly musical chairs and colouring competitions, balloon artistry, a Rangoli workshop, food and Indian cloth stalls and Indian cultural and community displays.
Performances include classic Indian dance, semi-classic and fusion and Bollywood performances, Bhangra and Gidda performances, rangoli workshops, food stalls, clothing stalls, Indian cultural display stalls and community stalls.