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Diwali is celebrated in Australia by more than one million people. But everyone else has little knowledge of this important festival observed by Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs.
Summarising Diwali is an incredibly daunting task because despite how tiny India looks on a global map, it’s extremely vast and diverse – and so there are many different interpretations and celebrations of Diwali. But something that never changes is the purpose of Diwali as a celebration of good over evil, triumph of light over dark, and a chance to start the year afresh.
One of the mythological stories behind Diwali is that Lord Rama returned home after being in exile for 14 years. To welcome him, the entire city of Ayodhya lit up. The name Diwali is derived from Deepavali, which means the row of lights and symbolises victory of light over dark. Even today, most of the Indian diaspora returns ‘home’ to celebrate Diwali with their families and friends.
Celebrating the spirit of community
We celebrate Diwali over five days, with the first day known as Dhanteras – which this year falls on Friday 10 November. Buying gold, silver and steel utensils are considered auspicious. At sunset, we light our first ‘diya’ – an oil lamp made from clay.
Choti Diwali – which literally translates to small Diwali – is the second day of Diwali and celebrated by cleaning the house and decorating it with lights and rangoli. All Indian festivals celebrate the spirit of community, so Choti Diwali is also the time to visit extended families and friends and gifting them Mithai (Indian sweets) and dry fruits, which is symbolic of wishing prosperity and wealth for those you visit.
Diwali (or Lakshmi Pujan) is the main day and marks the start of the new year for most Hindus. Prayers are offered to goddess Lakshmi (goddess of prosperity) and to Lord Ganesha (who removes obstacles) to seek abundance in the coming year.
Back in India, most people would light up their houses, burst crackers and wear new clothes to bring in the year. Elders in the family gift money to the younger ones and a fun tradition is to play a poker-like gambling card game called “teen patti”. The premise is, if you start your year with a win you continue to win the whole year.
Annakut (or Govardhan Puja) is celebrated right after Diwali. The traditional way of doing this was by offering a “56 bhog” (56 different vegetarian dishes) and a day when manufacturers worship their machines and tools and ask for support in the new year.
The fifth and final day of Diwali is Bhai Dhooj, when brothers visit their sisters and are welcomed by a tilak and is a celebration of the bond between the families.
Get involved by wishing someone a Happy Diwali
In its truest sense, Diwali is a festival of togetherness, not just with your immediate family but also extended family and friends who are like family. This day is quite hard for those who live away from home specially when social media lights up with all the celebrations back in India.
So, if you see someone from an Indian origin – be it your colleague, uber delivery person, cashier at the convenience store or even your neighbour – do take a few second to wish them a “Happy Diwali and a prosperous new year”. I am sure it will brighten their day.
Yasha Chandra is Client Partner at iProspect
To broaden your understanding of DE&I, complete the SBS Core Inclusion course – Australia’s leading online DE&I training course – available for free to MFA member employees. Access ends December 2023.