In the great Hindu epic, The Ramayema, Lord Rama returns to Ayodhya after rescuing his wife, Sita, from the king of Lanka.
Upon their return, Sita walks through fire to prove her purity to Rama, igniting a now-centuries old celebration of light in both the Hindu and Sikh calendars.
“Diwali is like our Christmas,” said Sri Devi, cultural co-ordinator and secretary at the Victoria Hindu Parishad. “This is one of the ancient Hindu festivals, and it’s the biggest and brightest festival in India.”
Diwali comes from the Hindu word Deepavali – Deep means light, and Avali means row of light.
The largest Diwali festival outside of India takes place each year in Surrey. Island Hindus and Sikhs can’t claim quite the same level of intensity, but their annual Diwali Cultural Show still attracts a sell-out crowd each year to Farquhar Auditorium.
The traditional Diwali celebration takes place over five days during the darkest new moon. An inundation of lights during those evenings is just one component of the celebration, Devi said.
“There’s a spiritual side to this, which is the awareness of the light inside of us. It signifies good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. This awakening of light within us brings compassion and love to all things. That’s the sense of Diwali,” she said.
(Below: Sanjita Sharma, left, Hina Chapani, Sridevi Ganti, Anjali Kalna and Ruchi Sharma perform at a Gordon Head home in advance of the Diwali Cultural Show 2014.)
During Diwali, the front pathways of many Indian homes are decorated with clay pots and candles. The most traditional observers use clarified butter, or ghee, to burn their oil lamps, although most Canadians today use electric lights, Devi said.
Others create designs with rice and water around walkways to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Devi said. “Wealth doesn’t mean money, it means family, abundance, happiness. That’s what we want to bring when we say wealth.”
The floor patterns are known as Rangoli.
Another big component of Diwali is the food. Families exchange Indian sweets, snacks and chai while inviting family and neighbours into their homes. Similar culinary treats will be available after the performance at Farquhar Auditorium on Nov. 1, Devi said.
“There’s going to be music and dance: it’s a variety show, so the audience will get to see vibrant and colourful dancers from classical, folk and Bollywood genres,” she said.
Around 15 groups will perform and will vary in age from kids to seniors.
“It’s our local talent, and we’ve opened the stage to everyone,” Devi said.
“We do see the larger Victoria population coming to see this, it really is open to everyone,” Devi said. “Expect a colourful, vibrant and entertaining evening.” The evening kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and runs until 10 p.m.
Tickets for the Diwali Cultural Show are $15 and can be purchased at the UVic Ticket Centre by calling 250-721-8480 or online at tickets.uvic.ca.