A Guide to Diwali 2020: celebrating safely whilst adhering to Covid restrictions
Diwali is the five-day festival of lights that runs from 13 to 16 November. This year Diwali day falls on 14 November, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world.
It symbolises the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”. Each religion observes different events and stories during the festival. The word Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word deepavali, meaning “rows of lighted lamps”.
Although Diwali is the most important holiday in Hinduism, Buddhists, Sikhs, and Jains all over Southeast Asia, it’s particularly celebrated in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is widely celebrated here in the United Kingdom and is prominent in many major cities.
What happens during Diwali?
• Devotees light oil lamps called diyas on streets, and in their homes
• They worship Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and wealth
• Families share a feast and exchange gifts
• People celebrate with fireworks and festivities
Diwali has a rich history. It is said to have begun as a harvest festival marking the last harvest of the year. Usually farmers would give thanks for the years and harvests behind them and pray for the coming year. In modern times many Indian businesses use the first day of Diwali to mark the end of the fiscal year.
According to Indian custom, the second day of the festival celebrates the killing of the demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and his wife. The third day celebrates the generosity of the goddess Lakshmi and her willingness to grant her followers' wishes. The fourth day remembers the god Bali, who was sent to rule the lower realms of the universe. On the fifth day, referred to as Yama Dvitiya, sisters invite their brothers into their homes for a large feast.
Hindu Diwali traditions
On the first day of Diwali, Hindus consider it lucky to clean house and shop for gold and silverware; on the second day, people decorate their homes with clay lamps covered in coloured sand.
Diwali is a festive time of year marked by decorations adorning homes and public streets. Some of the most popular decorations are the paper lanterns, candles, lights and elaborate fireworks displays.
Sikh Diwali traditions
Diwali coincides with Bandi Chhor Divas, which celebrates the escape of Guru Har Gobind, the sixth of the Sikh gurus, and numerous Hindu kings from the prison of Jahangir, the Mughal emperor. The holiday therefore celebrates this freedom as well as Guru Har Gobind's return to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.
Jain Diwali traditions
On Diwali, Jains take time to remember and celebrate Lord Mahavira's attainment of Nirvana. Mahavira, who was a contemporary of Gautama Buddha, was the last Jain Tirthankara, a person who has conquered the cycle of death and rebirth of this cosmic time cycle.
Buddhist Diwali traditions
Diwali marks Emperor Ashoka's decision to follow a path of peace after witnessing a great deal of bloodshed and death and subsequently, his conversion to Buddhism. On Diwali, therefore, Buddhists celebrate the emperor and Buddha, as well as the spiritual importance of light, goodness, and enlightenment.
How to celebrate Diwali and be safe during the coronavirus?
We want to be near to our families when we celebrate Diwali, and that’s important to everyone, family is important, but we need to be careful about spreading Covid19 by accident. Communal Diwali celebrations across the UK will be cancelled because of the coronavirus second lockdown. It is important to follow the guidelines from your local authority to keep you, your family and community safe.
Tips for celebrating Diwali safely;
- People will only be allowed to leave their homes for specific reasons under the new measures.
- Check to see if your local temple has Diwali prayers/worship online for you to join in. It is safer to meet your loved ones online or on a video call to mark the occasion. You can still pray together and mark the occasion.
- No mixing of different households inside homes, except for childcare and other support.
- Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitiser after touching surfaces, using the toilet and before preparing and eating food.
- If preparing or serving food, or coming into contact with others, you should not be wearing rings, bangles or any jewellery below the elbows (remove these when washing hands) as these may pass on germs.
- Cover your mouth when you cough and sneeze with tissue, or use your elbow.
- Do not hug or touch anyone outside of your household. Instead share a Namaste greeting.
- Wear a face covering over your nose and mouth; wash it daily. If you touch your covering, wash your hands. Remove it by using the ear loops, without touching your face; it won’t work if you wear it under your chin.
- Clean your home at the start and end of each day – door handles, light switches, work surfaces, remote controls and devices. Ordinary cleaning products work; soap, washing up liquid, bleach.
- Stay home and isolate if you have a persistent cough, fever or a loss of taste and smell.
Most staff will request time off to participate in this festival, staff are encouraged to book their leave as soon as possible and managers to approve the leave requests in line with business needs.
Many British citizens who follow Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism celebrate this great festival of Diwali and we would welcome your stories.
Produced by Mohammed Shafiq - PCS national black members' committee chair, in consultation with Vipin Dattani, PCS national black members' committee eastern region rep.