Reigniting the lights

Indian communities around the world will light up with fireworks, festivals, and food to celebrate Deepavali this November 14.

Deepavali, also known as Diwali by North Indians, is a festival of lights that celebrates good over evil. It occurs in the month of Karthik in the Hindu calendar, which is between October and November.

Deepavali is a significant celebration for Hindus, but it also coincides with celebrations by Jains and Sikhs. Each community honours the occasion differently, with traditions that vary with each community and region.

Although Deepavali is a huge celebration in India, it is also celebrated by people around the world, with countries like Malaysia and Singapore having national holidays to mark the occasion.

Deepavali is a growing occasion here in Australia. According to the 2016 ABS census, there are about 440,000 Hindus in Australia, a 60 per cent growth since 2011.

Each year, organisations across WA organise community events in honour of the occasion.

Diwali Mela is a yearly event organised by the Indian Society of Western Australia. It includes various stalls, music and performances. Last year, the three-day event garnered a crowd of 30,000 people.

“We want our people to integrate with the local society and at the same time not forget their own culture and traditions,” said Satish Nair, ISWA Assistant Secretary and lead organiser of Diwali Mela.

One of the highlights of the event this year will be a dance drama based on the Hindu mythology of Krishna. Last year, the event included a 6-meter-tall structure built as per Hindu mythology which Mr Nair said caught the attention of people.

Effigy burning during Diwali Mela 2019. Photo: supplied.

Despite the large number of Indian performances, this event is a multicultural affair which includes performances from Indigenous dancers, and local Western Australian artists.

Indigenous dancers performing at Diwali Mela 2019. Photo: supplied.

Swan Festival of Lights is also a multicultural occasion featuring performers from various backgrounds.

Project manager Kamalesh Thurairajah said their tagline ‘Celebrating Deepavali Together,’ looks at Deepavali as a universal festival inclusive of all people. Despite the strong Indian aspect of the event, it extends to the community and allows people to learn about the beauty of all cultures.

Swan Festival of Lights is an event presented by Annalakshmi and Saraswati Mahavidhyalaya, usually held at the Swan River foreshore with up to 50,000 attendees.

The Swan River foreshore crowd at Swan Festival of Lights. Photo: supplied.

This year, they are relaunching with a digital platform called Swan Festival of Lights: Reimagined.

Mr Thurairajah said branching into a digital aspect of the festival allows them to collaborate with international artists and reach a wider audience.

The highlight of this year’s event is a production called ‘Who Am I?’, an introspection of humanity created through virtual collaboration with artists from the US, India, Singapore and local WA and Indigenous artists.

Multicultural Interests Minister Paul Papalia believes that these events are a wonderful opportunity for Western Australians to learn more about the beauty, excitement and history of Indian culture.

“Western Australia has nearly 120,000 people who were either born in India or have Indian heritage.

“The embracing of Diwali by the wider Western Australian community demonstrates how much we value multiculturalism in our State and how it enriches our society for the better,” said Mr Papalia.

Deepavali celebrations feel especially significant this year after everything Australian Indian communities experienced during the pandemic.

Mr Nair leads ISWA’s COVID assistance committee, which has been supporting community members in need through financial assistance, medical assistance, and distribution of grocery vouchers.

Annalakshmi is an iconic part of the Australian Indian community. Located near the Bell Tower, the vegetarian restaurant is known for its pay-as-you-wish buffet which aligns with their ethos that no person should go hungry. However, due to COVID-19 they suspended their pay-as-you-wish option and introduced $15 thali set meals. Despite financial difficulties, they still proceeded to organise the SFOL.

Annalakshmi On The Swan located in Barrack Square, Perth. Photo: Hojeswinee Kanagarajah.

“COVID may be a limiter, but every year there is something that limits us,” said Mr Thurairajah. “We try to take this as a challenge we need to overcome, rather than a challenge that’s going to stop us.”

Annalakshmi On The Swan will be offering special lunch and dinners on Deepavali.

Diwali Mela is happening on November 7-8 at Claremont Showground, with tickets selling here. SFOL: Reimagined will launch its digital platform on November 12-14.