Diwali in Kenya

The Authentic Art and Culture of Diwali

In the course of event planning, you get to know a little bit about almost everything under God’s green earth.

Take for instance, this brief we got to decorate sections of a mall for the Diwali festival.

Frankly (to us), Diwali was always that Indian cultural festival with lots of firecrackers and dozens of neon-like colors and lights. And, might we add, rather more appealing than Halloween or Oktoberfest.

But beyond that, we were totally clueless. Hence, in a bid to learn more, this is what we discovered…

What is Diwali?

Diwali or Dipawali (in South India) is to Hindus what Christmas is to Christians. It’s one of their biggest and most important annual events.

Known as the festival of lights, this major event is often a time for religious rituals and swapping traditional stories not just among the Hindu but non-Hindu communities too.

It’s a merriment and joyous union of people across religions, cultures and castes.

The meaning of Diwali

Diyas are a powerful symbol of Diwali

According to National Geographic, here’s how different communities celebrate this incredible event.

  • Jainists:  They honor it as the day of Lord Mahavira’s nirvana (spiritual awakening). Mahavira is the founder of Jainism and the lighting of diyas during the festival is believed to be an honor to him. As well as a symbol of the triumph of knowledge over ignorance.
  • Sikhs: To them Diwali is a story about the struggle for freedom. A king tried to make Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, eat meat while the Guru was fasting but he declined. Soon, there was a protest outside the palace as crowds gathered around waving lanterns, candles and torches to demand his release. To avoid anguish that could result in strife, the king gave in and Guru Nanak was freed.
  • In North India:  For those in this region, their link to Diwali is the legend of Lord Rama, who was deprived of his kingdom and sent into exile for 14 years. Hence, Diwali is a celebration of his defeat of Ravana the evil spirit and return to his kingdom.
  • In South India: Diwali is considered as a victory of Lord Krishna over the demon Naraka. During his death, Naraka requested that people celebrate the victory of good over evil with new clothes, bursting crackers, exchange gifts, enjoy parties and spruce up their homes.

Though Buddhists don’t typically celebrate Diwali, Vajrayana Buddhists observe it as the festival of Swanti as do Hindus in the Newar region of Nepal. Both Swanti and Tihar are Nepalese variations of the Diwali festival.

But no matter these or more diverse interpretations, the underlying theme will always be that, Diwali is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and wisdom over ignorance.

Five days of Diwali

The festival takes place over five days, with the third day being the main event day. In this case, Saturday November 14th 2020 was the big day.

And here’s how the five days went down.

1. Dhanteras: (Day of fortune)

2. Naraka: Chaturdashi (Day of knowledge)

3. Diwali: (Day of light)

4. Annakut: (New Year)

5. Bhai Duj: (Day of love between siblings)

On Diwali night, most Hindus offer prayers to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, and Ganesh, the god representing good fortune and wisdom for the coming year.

As the religious ceremony comes to a close, sweetmeat offerings are placed in front of the deities. While small clay lamps known as diyas are arranged inside homes and outdoors, too.

The aim is to attract Lakshmi’s attention and guide her towards these twinkling lamps to bestow blessings and prosperity for the year ahead.

Setting the date

First things first,  the main event date falls on the new moon day of the Hindu month of Kartika. The Hindu calendar has twelve lunar months, and Kartika is the eighth.

Each month is divided into two fortnights called ‘shukla paksha’ (when the moon is waxing) and ‘krishna paksha’ (when the moon is waning).

Although traditions disagree as to which paksha goes first, it generally goes that Diwali itself falls on the night of the new moon.

The dates of Diwali according to the Gregorian calendar change from year to year, but the festival usually falls in late October or early November.

How to decorate for Diwali

As a lead up to the festival, time is spent redecorating homes with lights and rangolis (these are elaborate patterns made out of materials including rice, colored sand and flowers). Other activities include dinner parties, food festivals and craft fairs.

Decorations for Diwali involve a massive display of color and lights.

Traditionally, a vibrancy of shimmering colors is created using wall painting, craft paper and murals.

This year due to the erratic November rainy weather, we opted to use colorful ribbons to line the mall’s walkways,fairy lights and minimal drapes. Colorful Chinese lanterns added to the vibrancy and pop of color.

Celebrating Diwali
The colorful walkway

We were also to set up a wall rangoli which was daunting since the norm is to do them on the floor. We couldn’t also do away with it because it’s really not Diwali without rangoli.

Anyway, after a couple of misses, we got it right and chose to use assorted paints to color it.

The wall rangoli that was well worth it in the end

Next, we had to create a mehndi area where shoppers and mall visitors would get these traditional motifs drawn on their hands.

Traditional henna motifs include flowers, stars, water drops, spirals, and leaves. Remember our DIY re-purposed caramel poufs? They fit amazingly well into this space.

Celebrating Diwali
Ha! the caramel poufs added a glow to the mehndi corner

Another interesting prop we discovered was the diya, though not quite appropriate for the mall décor.

Diyas are quite significant in Hinduism; they symbolize knowledge, enlightenment, and one’s submission to a higher power.

Since we weren’t sure of their availability, we learned that it’s accepted to repurpose materials such as fruit rinds, flour dough, hollow shells, stones and just about anything that’s natural and could hold a candle.

More Diwali decor props

Here’s a list of some Diwali décor props and accessories to consider next time you’re decorating.

1. Glass bottle lights

You can either put fairy or string lights in an empty glass bottle or decorate it with glitter, then fill it with lights to illuminate a space.

2. Floating candles

For this fill a basin or glass bowl with water, sprinkle beans, flower petals, beads and glitter then place the floating candles for a magnificent effect.

3. Torans

According to Wikipedia, Toran, ‘Toranam, also known as Bandanwal, is a decorative door hanging in Hinduism.

It’s usually decorated with marigolds and mango leaves, or a string that is tied on the door with the flower on it as a part of traditional Hindu culture on the occasion of festivals and weddings.

4. Henna decorated candles

Henna decorated candles are classic. How do you do this?

When the henna dries, apply a single coat of PVC glue on it with some water. Once the single layer of the glue dries, then apply the second as well to make sure the design sticks.

Conclusion

Interestingly, firecrackers which are a Diwali staple are continually being frowned upon for their environmental degradation and pollution.

More eco-friendly ways that include recycling and re-purposing of materials are being incorporated yearly.

Are we glad we did? Absolutely, yes! Diwali will definitely be a major feature in our annual calendar. Next year, we’ll DIY some torans and diyas.

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See you next week. Keep safe!

XOXO

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