What you need to know:
- Diwali 2023, the festival of lights, is being celebrated today, Sunday, 12 November. Hindus across the country celebrate this festival with joy and enthusiasm.
- As fireworks rule the day, Indian women explain why the day is so significant.
It is Indian Diwali, a time for firecrackers, dazzling lights, sweets and celebrations. So how do Hindus celebrate this holiday?
But for Pushpa Ratna, Diwali is a day to bond with family.
She welcomes us to her home in Muthaiga, Nairobi, where she will host 25 people for Diwali celebrations today, Sunday, November 12. She has lots of sweets, nuts and chocolates that she will serve her guests.
On the table, there are also scented candles and a sculpture of Lord Buddha. The welcoming table has to be decorated with flowers. This year she is using pom pom flowers.
“When the guests come we welcome them with sweets. Before Covid, we would invite 50 people, but now it is only 25 people who’ll be coming,” she says.
To Ms Ratna, Diwali is a time “to do everything for the inner thinking and inner mind. It has nothing to do with the pomp and show, it should be to purify the mind.
Diwali is about victory but that is what the books say, Diwali for me is bonding with family. Sometimes you don't talk with people because of many issues or a busy work schedule but during Diwali all that is put behind. We have to forgive each other and come together and eat together."
She says the Hindus love wearing bright and new clothes during Diwali. "When we were young, it wasn't this fancy during Diwali. I used to get one dress a year and that was during Diwali. We couldn't buy many dresses because we were eight children," she says.
Ms Ratna was born in 1950 in Kenya.
"We didn't have the luxury of putting candles or even sweets. So we used to go to the temple and that is where we would get all the sweets, tea and food. It was genuine love, care and sharing,” says the 74-year-old.
For 39-year-old Anamika Vikas Tonge, Diwali is a day she await for the entire year.
"It is the day of goddess Lakshmi (God of prosperity). We clean our entire house hoping the goddess will visit our house and bless us. This festival also provides us with an opportunity to greet our elders and take divine blessings from them,” says Ms Tonge who works with various art forms such as rangoli (the art of making, and painting on the floor through coloured sand), painting and creative artworks.
Ms Ratna has decorated her in-house swimming pool with floating artificial lotus flowers which are a symbol of purity. The lotus is India’s national flower.
“I use artificial flowers because it is not easy to get naturally-growing ones in Kenya. Lotus flowers grow in dirty water but are still not touched by dirt. This is the way we should live, nothing negative; sorrowful, angry, or lustful should affect us.
Our goddess of wealth, Lakshmi also sits on the lotus flower. On Saturday, we will pray to her with milk, yoghurt and water. That is the day she brings us wealth. We have to keep the door open from 6am for a while. If you keep it closed, she won’t come in to give you wealth, prosperity and good health. See there is money coming out of the pots,” she says as she shows us the picture of the goddess Lakshmi seated on a lotus flower.
During Diwali, Indian homes are decorated with colourful rangoli. For Ms Ratna, she decorates peacock sculptures. This year, her sculptures, are decorated with red and grey. The peacocks are because of Lord Krishna and the Lord Radhika. Rangoli means colour.
"I bought the rangolis peacocks. The peacocks are significant because Lord Krishna wears a peacock on his head. We pray to her to remove all the evil,” she says.
On one side of her swimming pool, you can see sculptures of Lord Krishna and Lord Radhika.
“Specifically rangolies are prepared outside houses as a symbol of creativity. We decorate our house with lights and flowers resembling positivity. During the Diwali period, it is auspicious to purchase gold. It is believed that buying gold brings good luck and wards off evil and negative energies. We buy earthen lamps, new clothes, skylights, sweets, crackers and gifts for friends and family," Ms Tonge adds.
The mother-of-one avoids reusing her decorations from the previous year saying, “Generally, festival of Diwali is to give up old and replace with new. These new materials are a sign of positivity.”
Significance of flowers
Different flowers are used with different gods and are symbolic.
At the entrance to her home, Ms Ratna has yellow flowers to keep away negative energy. “To keep the bad energy out during Diwali and weddings, we always put yellow flowers on the door. We also have to hang mango leaves, lemon and seven chillies to keep evil out during festivities.”
“For Lord Ganesh, (the remover of obstacles) we decorate with red flowers. For Lord Shiva, the god of destruction, we decorate with white flowers.
At every corner of Ms Ratna’s house are candles. Every evening at 6pm, she must light the candles.
“I light the candle every day, to remove the darkness. We use ghee from the cow for our candles, not wax. Ghee from the cow is very pure. Candles signify that ignorance has been removed and knowledge comes in. For you to do this, you have to read good books, and always be near positive people," she says.
She has taken out her colourful traditional threadwork and pillow seats to put and hang on her seats.
“These are done by my mother-in-law. It is all threadwork and traditional. Because it is Diwali, it is about colours. This is why I wore this colourful kimono today,” she says.
When the guests arrive
Ms Ratna tells us: “When the guests come in we serve them sweets or nuts. Then the relatives, our children and grandchildren, all touch our feet to say thank you. The whole sitting and dining is usually done out in the garden but because of the rains, we may have to do it inside this time. We will have one table for desserts, another for the food and the drinks will be served at the house bar.”
Indian sweets, chocolates, purees, rice and chapatis are part of the Diwali party.
"The guests will come with gifts, particularly Indian sweets. The sweets signify that you should be as sweet on that day to everyone, in the words you speak,” Ms Ratna says.