Celebrating Diwali in Pakistan
Columban Father Dan O'Connor from New Zealand
Diwali, is the Hindu festival of lights, which is celebrated each year during October or November, depending on the cycles of the moon. Diwali symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance”.
In 2018 the celebrations which lasted five days began on the 7th of November. Diwali is a main religious feast that Hindu people celebrate, remembering the event when Lord Ram rescued Sita from the captivity of Demon Rawan. The feast celebrates the return of Ram, his wife Sita, and his brother Lakhshmi, after many years of exile in the forest.
There are approximately one billion Hindus in the world, making it the third largest religion with about fourteen per cent of the world’s population. It is an Indian religion and Dharma (‘Way of Life’). It is the major religion in India practised by about 970 million people or 80% of the population. 95% of Hindus live in India, with the remaining 30 million living in Nepal, Bali (Indonesia), Pakistan and other countries.
Pakistan’s population of 207.7 million is made up of approximately 96% Muslim, 1.7% Hindu and 1.6% Christian. Therefore there are about 3.3 million Hindus living in Pakistan. Many Hindus live in in Badin Parish (Province of Sindh) in the city, with most living in the many outlying villages. Most work as landless peasant farmers and are poor. St Paul’s School, situated in the church compound in Badin City, has about 420 pupils of whom about 150 are Christian, 110 Hindu and 160 Muslim. Most of the teachers are Christian with a few being Hindu and Muslim.
On the Feast of Diwali, a Hindu teacher, Miss Nandu, invited another teacher, Ramo, Jerry (Columban student) and myself to her family home. On entering the home we were given a very friendly welcome with much happy hospitality. The house and temple in their home were brightly lit with many candles and lights. The “Row of Lights” for which the Dewali Festival is named are lit on the ‘New Moon Light’ to welcome Lakhshmi, ‘the goddess of wealth’. For many Hindus, Diwali is also New Year’s eve as Diwali is held on the final day of the Vikram (Jantri) calendar.
Diwali is celebrated with a variety of rituals which centre on the lighting of candles, electric lights and fireworks. Fireworks are very loud indeed and I needed to put my hands to my ears so as to lessen the effect of the deafening sound. People exchange gifts and homemade sweets, clean and decorate homes, wear new clothes, dance, feast and forgive one another. We were delighted to see a small niece of Miss Nandu, named Lata, dressed in bright clothes, dancing to her heart’s delight.
Diwali symbolises the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. It also celebrates a good year of harvests and honours the goddess of wealth. While we were guests in a room, a member of the family came in with a flaming fire on a stick and circled this around the room. This was to chase away any evil that may be in the house.
On the first day, the celebration takes place within one’s own family. On the second day, visitation is made to relations with gifts and sweets exchanged. Over these days they also visit the graves of loved ones where they offer prayers, clean the graves, and place candles, incense sticks and roses on them.
Prayer is an important part of the Diwali celebration as well as also in their daily lives. Prayer is offered before sunrise, at sunset and other times. On entering the mundir (temple), a bell is rung. The bell calls the divinity to attend to the devotee’s prayer.
Although Hinduism is often understood as being polytheistic, supposedly recognising as many as 330 million gods, it also has ‘one god’, that is Supreme Brahma. Brahma is an entity believed to inherit every portion of reality and existence throughout the entire universe. Scholars describe Hinduism as the product of religious development in India that spans nearly 4,000 years, making it perhaps the oldest surviving world religion. It is often referred as “the Eternal Tradition” on “the Eternal Way” beyond human history.
Ramo, Jerry and I were very touched by the hospitality, peace, abundant joy, love and acceptance that were extended to us for which we were most grateful.