Deepavali, India’s Festival of Lights (aka Diwali)

Written by Bharath Rao

In this update Bharath shares the meaning that he has recently learnt that Deepavali has for him and highlights the shared commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion within our workplaces that recognises the value of each member of our community. 

Culture and heritage 

My ignorance about the culture I was born into and had passively left behind began, like so many things, on WhatsApp. Specifically, the family group chat with my mum, dad and sister, where I recently enquired about wanting to learn more about ‘diwali’ … ‘Deepavali*,’ my sister messaged, followed by a wide-eyed, open-mouthed smiling emoji that seemed to burn at the insecurities circling the core of my Indian heritage. 

I’m a 39-year-old Englishman born in Bangalore, Karnataka, India. ‘Deepavali’ is a transliteration from Sanskrit vocabulary used throughout South and East Indian states such as Karnataka. ‘Diwali’ the most popular of the two terms on Google by a distance could be said to be a corrupted colloquialism later adopted by the rest of India which then caught on around the world. 

I moved to the UK in the mid-1980s and lived in almost entirely white Midlands neighbourhoods. I had incredible, liberal parents who encouraged me to experience, understand and respect other people’s cultures, and a rebellious, atheistic streak which merged the genuine human need for ritual with the more debatable notion of unquestioning religious belief. Nevertheless, profound spiritual experiences in recent years had led me back to try and better understand my origins.”  

Deepavali’s different meanings 

‘Deepavali’ means ‘line of lamps’ in its literal form, whilst both that and ‘Diwali’ mean ‘feast of lights’. A celebration of the inner light (‘atman’ in Sanskrit), Deepavali delves into the self and bursts outwards, marking the triumph of good over evil, of higher knowledge over ignorance, the goodness and enjoyment of life, of the end of harvest season and the close of financial business. 

The legend behind Deepavali has fascinating cinematic overtones, specifically celebrating the return of the Hindu god Lord Ram to his Kingdom, Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile. The demon king Ravan of Lanka had abducted Lord Ram’s consort Sita, only to invite his own death as a result. Lord Ram, along with his brother Laxman (and an army of monkeys), defeated and killed Ravan and returned to Ayodhya with Sita. According to mythology, the people of Ayodhya lit up clay lamps (‘diyas’) to welcome him back from exile. 

 

5 days of Deepavali 

This year, Deepavali starts on 24 October. Traditionally, but far from always, a five-day affair, day 1 (the thirteenth day of the dark fortnight of Kartik) kicks off with Dhanteras, meaning a day related to wealth and prosperity, and families buying items to represent these, such as utensils or gold. In Indian communities, there are fairs, carnivals and shopping sprees. Girls and women dress up in jewellery and adorn themselves in mehndi, a temporary tattoo made from plant dye. Local bazaars and markets are full to the brim with brightly coloured decorations, with garlands, diyas and sweets exchanged amongst family and friends. 

Day 2, Narak Chaturdashi, on the fourteenth day of the second fortnight of the lunar month, brings Deepavali down a notch, on a smaller scale with fewer rituals. Families rise before dawn, clean their houses, take fragrant baths and dress up in festive clothes. From my past returns to India, these were the days I remembered most, in which Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, is invited into people’s homes with hopes that she will bring good luck and fortune to the whole family. 

The third and fourth days are marked by worship (‘puja’) of Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Ganesh, the Lord of ‘auspicious beginnings and the powerful title of ‘Remover of Obstacles’. In these days and moonless nights, vibrant patterns of rangoli (‘an array of colours’) are meticulously created in the doorways of family homes, with diyas and candles placed throughout the house to welcome the fortune of the deities. Bhai Duj marks the end of the five days of celebrations, with siblings in the family offering sweets, gifts and money to each other as marks of respect, affection and love, and firecrackers of all colours signalling victory of good over evil and the joy of people on earth. 

Symbolically, Deepavali is about setting aside some days of the year to come together 

Perhaps this is what drew me back to wanting to lay out what Deepavali broadly means, for myself and for others. Beyond the belief in gods and their adventures, told and re-told over generations, is something more tangible and ever more important in current times: Deepavali is about spreading happiness, familial togetherness and helping generations to not lose sight of rituals and traditions that bonded those we loved and continue to love. 

Our ongoing commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

PRMA Consulting is a member of Fishawack Health and together we are building an inclusive workplace that is supportive, welcoming, and fair. We are committed to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) that recognizes the value of each member of our community. We pledge to: 

UNDERSTAND the meaning, value, and impact of DE&I and its component parts across the business 

ENABLE colleagues to succeed and drive more impactful client work by equipping them with knowledge and tools 

ATTRACT a diverse network of partners and teams across Fishawack Health. 

Our commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is supported by six pillars, led by members of our senior team: Gender, Family, LGBTQ+, Race/Ethnicity, Enablement, and Mental Health. 

We are always looking for people who will deliver first-class work 

Recruiting, developing, and retaining engaged and motivated colleagues is essential for the success of our business. That is why PRMA Consulting is committed to a strong and successful learning and development strategy with clear progression paths. Read more about our development and growth initiatives and career opportunities. 

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