The return of Diwali celebrations have been embraced in Nanaimo, so much so that an event marking the occasion sold out within mere days of its announcement.
“Everybody that’s coming – as soon as they find out it’s happening, they start calling and calling as soon as we created an event,” said Jeet Manhas, a member of the community group that organizes the public event.
For 16 years, Manhas said he and several like-minded Indo-Canadian community members have hosted the “triumph of light over darkness” celebration, and with each year the guest list grows longer.
After the two-year absence related to COVID-19 safety restrictions, this year’s Diwali celebration will be held at the Beban Park social centre on Friday, Oct. 28, with approximately 300 attendees. Those who were able to secure a ticket will enjoy appetizers, dinner and cultural performances.
In the early years, Manhas said the celebration started with fewer than 100 people at the Cavallotti Lodge. Since then, organizers have moved the event to the Bowen Park activity centre, and finally to the Beban Park social centre to expand capacity. Simple word of mouth is what Manhas attributes to its growing popularity, and suggested an even larger venue may be needed next year.
“We do try to promote it to the community at large, so they know what Diwali is all about and why we do it,” he said.
His wife, Kaajal, said there is a diverse range of attendees every year.
“It’s not only people from India, it’s people from Sri Lanka, people from Nepal, people from Bangladesh – and all our community at large … It’s a cultural event where you see all kinds of different communities coming together.”
The celebration of Diwali, she said, is “a time of renewal” and spoke of two religious aspects she’s familiar with. Diwali, in Hinduism, marks the return of Lord Rama after being exiled for 14 years where lamps were lit by the people of his kingdom for him to follow back, and in Sikhism, Diwali, or Bandi Chhor Divas, celebrates the release from imprisonment of Guru Hargobind, the sixth guru, who would only accept freedom if all other prisoners were released as well.
Diwali falls on Monday, Oct. 24, this year and changes annually to coincide with the new moon and Hindu lunar calendar.
“[Traditions] start two weeks prior,” said Kaajal. “We have Dussehra – that was the day that Lord Rama killed [King Ravana] – it was a victory of goodness over evil. So from that day on, that’s when the celebration starts, people start decorating their home and we start cleaning our homes … It’s like a beginning of a new year and welcoming with the lights.”