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  • B.M. Allsopp

Diwali with a Fiji twist

Why is my sweet tooth nagging a little now it's November? No, it's not a Hallowe'en hangover, but anticipation of Diwali, the annual five-day Hindu festival held not only in India but in all the countries where there are Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities. As readers of my Fiji Islands Mysteries will know, around half of Fiji's people are of Indian ethnic origin, and most of these are Hindu. Their story is a gripping one, but one I'll save for another day, if you're interested.

Diwali - Festival of Light

traditional clay Diwali oil lamps

I knew nothing of this festival before I came to live in Fiji, where Diwali is marked by a public holiday, falling this year on 7th November. Diwali honours Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity, beauty and knowledge. One of my Hindu colleagues at the University of the South Pacific told me, "It's like Christmas - a celebration of the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil ". They're things we can all pray for, don't you think?

Again like Christmas, people spruce up their houses, go overboard with garish lights and temple attendance soars. Detective Sergeant Susila Singh's family is Sikh, and she joins them if she can to pray for the success of their crops. Hindus visit friends and neighbours of all religions, bearing gifts of colourful spicy sweets, home-made if possible. Everyone gets a new outfit.

Unlike Christmas, however, Diwali is noisy. Fireworks explode night and day, drums beat and young men compete to create the most ear-splitting racket for what seems like a week.

A Fijian Twist?

colourful Diwali sweets

There's nothing that Christian Fijians relish more than decorating, feasting and dressing up, so it's no surprise that that they join in those aspects with gusto and goodwill. The day before the public holiday, town-dwelling Hindus and Sikhs hold a slap-up morning or afternoon tea at their workplaces.

The day at USP began with lots of laughs as all non-Indians were presented with Indian clothes. My colleagues gleefully dressed us and we wore these clothes the whole day. Fortunately, I was not allocated a sari but a salwar kameez (pant suit), which is most comfortable and I have worn many times since. Our staff table groaned beneath wonderfully spiced sweets and needless to say, the morning tea was an extended one. Sugar is supposed to make children hyperactive, but it seemed to have the opposite effect on us adults at Diwali. Or maybe it was those spices? We managed to troop outside for this photo - well, the women did. Only one brave man joined us. I'm standing next to him, 4th from the left.

USP employees celebrate Diwali on campus

Perhaps Diwali is celebrated at workplaces in other countries outside India also. If you've experienced Diwali at work, I'd love to hear about it!

You can find more about Fiji on my website, in the Fiji Gallery and Fiji Resources page. As ever, I'd welcome your comments and questions about this post.

until next month,

Bernadette (B.M. Allsopp)

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