I get the feeling that there may be an auspicious reason why Diwali falls on the same night as Guy Fawkes, so I’ve taken it upon myself to delve into the 2 traditions to see if there are any common similarities between them. Maybe I’m being superstitious but the fact that I come from a true mix of east meets west culture my options have been broadened as to how I intend to spend the night of the 5th November. So either I light a multitude of candles and perform puja in a peaceful environment whilst offering copious amounts of rich divine Mithai to my friends and family OR indulge myself with sickly toffee apples and cheesy jacket potatoes whilst standing with hundreds of other freezing cold souls, clad in their winter woolies, watching a stuffed human sized ragdoll burn to it’s bitter end on a ferocious bonfire.
So let’s start with the Festival of Lights–Diwali, Indian Christmas perhaps? Diwali is one of the most important festivals celebrated in India. Usually it falls the beginning of November on the darkest night of the year. All over India homes are decorated with lights and lamps called Diyas and are filled with oil as a sign of celebration and hope for humankind. Diyas are also said to banish darkness and welcome good luck and good fortune. Diwali originates from the Sanskrit Deepavali meaning row of lamps. Like most traditions all over the world Diwali is centered around eating delicious food, meeting friends and family, decorating the house and wearing new clothes. Unlike Christmas the focus is on tradition rather than receiving a mass amount of gifts, or maybe this has changed slightly over the years, however you don’t usually see the commercial hype with Diwali that you see during the run up to Christmas, don’t you agree?
When I was a child I remember visiting my relatives family home, without divulging too much information they lived in the UK in a large cosmopolitan city. My Auntie would (oddly) hang the Diwali decorations and keep them up all year round, in fact they never changed which for a confused child such as myself created a sense of heaven and hell on earth. I was never quite sure if I was being welcomed into a Santa’s grotto every time I paid their household a visit or was it some kind of dream. Until sadly I realised there were no gifts to be had (bearing in mind with the hint of Catholicism added to my upbringing I was racked with a sense of guilt for even expecting to be showered with the smallest of gifts). The reason for the permanent festive household was simply due to the fact that it saved them time and expense taking down the decorations and having to put them back up the following year. If you’re from or familiar with Indian culture you may relate to this pretty well, It’s NOT an uncommon scenario and okay I can see the logic, but I’ll allow you to ponder this one and come to your own conclusion.
Back to serious matters!
On the evening of Diwali people hold prayer and puja time in their homes. They honour Ganesh the elephant God of good luck, wisdom and remover of all obstacles. I suspect this makes him God of elephant journal too right? Lakshmi the Goddess of prosperity and good fortune is also honoured and the Diyas are left burning in the homes all night so that Lakshmi can enter and feel welcome.
Diwali marks the start of a new year for many communities in India and is a celebration of victory of good over evil, which is expressed through a variety of stories told all across the nation.
So without further a do let me transport you to the United Kingdom and the year 1605 where we……
‘ Remember Remember the 5th of November
Gunpowder, Treason and Plot.
We see no Reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be Forgot.’
Guy Fawkes Night – Also known as Bonfire Night amongst us commoners.
Can hardly be compared to the exotic Festival of Lights now can it? During this time of year here in the UK we purchase a ridiculously crazy amount of fireworks, burn huge bonfires to commemorate England’s most famous traitor, who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Even though he was a pukka bloke he made the mistake of getting caught. Good way to keep the politicians on their toes if nothing else.
Without going into too much detail, the leader of the plot Robert Catesby along with several others including Thomas Percy, John Wright and of course the infamous Guy Fawkes (also known as Guido Fawkes) were unhappy with the way the Roman Catholics were being treated in England at the time. They hoped that by blowing up Parliament and the King they would help Roman Catholics to take over the country. Unfortunately for Guy he was caught red handed as he entered the cellars of Westminster where the conspirators had hidden at least 20 barrels of gunpowder and that’s a h*ll of alot of gunpowder to say the least. Guy Fawkes was arrested and under torture revealed the names of all the other conspirators. Eventually they were all tried for treason and executed.
Here’s what we Do.
So from this wonderful piece of history came the night where we stuff a human sized rag doll, (as mentioned earlier) stick him on the top of an extremely large bonfire and watch him burn while fireworks explode all around. (Call me a party pooper but it all seems a bit masacistic from where I’m standing). We then take it upon ourselves to eat sticky carbohydrate packed junk foods to extreme until we feel sick and wish we had never bothered.
Although part of me feels the need to honour ones Catholic faith (through a pure sense of guilt of course) and bless the souls of these guys, excuse the pun, the only thing these 2 festivals really have in common is the over extensive use of fireworks and even then it’s for totally different reasons. Without doubt Diwali wins the day for me, so on that note here’s a Diwali Blessing to wish you Happiness, Love and Prosperity for this coming Friday.
May the Light of Understanding Shine in your Minds
May the Light of Harmony Glow in your Home
May the Light of Service Shine Forth Ceaselessly from your Hands
May the Light of Peace Emanate from your Being
May your Presence Light the Lamp of Love and Peace wherever you go’.
– Diwali blessing by Swami Chidanand Saraswati.