Celebrating Diwali in the UK
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By Lisa Hansson, 19 October 2015
Diwali (sometimes called Divali or Deepavali), the Hindu festival of lights, is a big celebration in the UK!
Diwali falls on 11 November this year, but many events are held throughout the month. There will be parties among Hindu communities (as well as Sikh and Jain communities, which also celebrate festivals on this day), and many more in city centres, schools, colleges and universities.
Everyone is invited! This is a great chance for students of all nationalities to experience part of the UK’s Hindu culture. And, of course, to see some spectacular displays of lanterns, candles and fireworks – this is the festival of lights after all!
Diwali at your university, school or college
You’ll find Diwali celebrations at universities, colleges and schools across the UK, from student-produced shows to formal banquets. Ask around on campus or at your students' union – most have Hindu and South Asian societies, and you might also be able to attend the events without becoming a member.
We spoke to University of Liverpool student Madhav Dave, from the National Hindu Students' Forum, for an insight on Diwali at UK universities – and his inspiring advice for new international students! Read the interview here...
There are Diwali Balls in Oxford, Nottingham and London, for example, and the University of Sussex hosts a colourful cultural festival which is attended by over 400 people. These are some of the highlights of the student social calendar – and not just for Hindu students. Big-name bhangra and Bollywood acts sometimes headline Diwali shows, attracting fans from all backgrounds.
Students performing at the University of Sussex's Diwali event (Photo credit ©Stuart Robinson)
'Diwali is something I look forward to right from the start of the year,' says Props Mehra, president of the South Asian students' society at the University of Sussex. 'It’s all about communal living and harmony. Over the years, the biggest and probably the best change I’ve seen in the show is the fact that as a community, we have been able to share the celebrations of this lovely festival not only with South Asians, but also with people from different countries, cultures and ethnic backgrounds. That’s what makes it more special for me.'
At the University of Oxford, international student Stuti Johri is the Hindu Society's event coordinator. 'Last year was the first time I celebrated Diwali away from home. I thought it would be depressing, but Diwali Ball was honestly more fun than I could have imagined,' Stuti says. 'It was also a new experience to see youngsters like myself carrying out the traditional rituals that our parents or grandparents normally do. The burst of a cultural evening in an otherwise relatively western lifestyle during term was also refreshing, and made Diwali all the more special.'
Diwali in London
Diwali took place a month early in London this year (11 November is Remembrance Day in the UK, which involves a large procession through the centre of London every year). So 11 October saw a huge Diwali celebration in London’s famous Trafalgar Square. Food, music and dance from community groups and professional artists were some of the highlights – along with Banghra classes, the chance to try on saris, get an ayurvedic massage or makeover in the ‘beauty zone’ or browse for gifts at the Indian bazaar. All the entertainment here was free, like many of the events that take place in the city run by the Mayor of London's office.
There are also dazzling Diwali celebrations on 11 November at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, northwest London – one of the biggest Hindu temples outside India. It’s worth seeing this impressive building at any time of year to take a free guided tour, visit an exhibition or experience a traditional Hindu ceremony.
BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, also known as Neasden Temple (Photo ©VisitBritain/James McCormick)
Diwali in Leicester
Did you know the biggest Diwali celebrations in the world, outside India, are usually in Leicester? On 1 November, up to 35,000 people will gather to watch the lights being switched on along Belgrave Road, then on 11 November there’s a spectacular street party! Expect a buzzing atmosphere, music, dancing and other live performances, plus stalls selling a mouthwatering array of traditional foods. Grab a vegetarian curry, laddoo and barfi sweets and a drink of lassi, and watch the fireworks light up the night sky.
A shopkeeper with Diwali decorations on Belgrave Road in Leicester (Photo ©VisitBritain/Andy Ward)
Diwali in Manchester
As well as several student events in Manchester, the city hosts a popular Diwali festival on 17 October featuring bhangra and Bollywood performances, crafts, jewellery and clothes stalls, henna and face painting, lantern making and outdoor theatre – visitors are invited to make their own lanterns and join in the dramatic procession after dark.
PhD student Danielle Watts, from the USA, was there! Check out her photos from Manchester – all colourful events, delicious food and glowing lanterns...
Diwali in Cardiff
Across Wales, there are various events hosted by Hindu associations, temples and student groups. Last year, Cardiff student Amarjeet Mutneja and some of his friends from India were invited to celebrate Diwali at the Welsh Assembly Government – ‘where we showed everyone how Bollywood dancing is really done!’, Amarjeet said.
Amarjeet with Raj Aggarwal, the Honorary Consul for India in Wales, and dancers at the Welsh Assembly Government (Photo ©Amarjeet Mutneja)
This was one of many events Amarjeet joined (read his story here), and he learned a lot from the experience: ‘People in the UK are very warm and welcoming, and coming here taught me the importance of understanding and appreciating people from different cultures and backgrounds.’
Diwali in Aberdeen
The Indian Association of North East Scotland is planning a celebration in Aberdeen on 25 October – keep an eye on the association’s Facebook page for updates.
Diwali in Derry-Londonderry
If you’re studying in Northern Ireland, head for the city of Derry-Londonderry for a vibrant Diwali celebration at the Millennium Forum. There are lots of activities on 25 October, including live music and displays of Indian fashion and crafts.