Mauritians of all religions and of all beliefs took to the streets yesterday to celebrate the festival of light. On foot or by car, locals and tourists explored neighbourhoods and were invited to people’s homes for some delicious, multi-coloured cakes, from barfi to gulab jamun and ladoo.
Diwali is one of the most glorious times of the year, and is India’s most important festival. Stretching back 2,500 years or so, it is named for the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that men and women light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects us from spiritual darkness. In India, it is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs. In Mauritius, everyone takes part in the festivities.
The Diwali narrative changes depending on the region it is told: in northern India, for instance, Diwali celebrates the story of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after he defeats King Ravana of Sri Lanka. King Ravana captured Rama’s wife Sita, and Rama (one of the incarnations of the Lord Vishnu) sought the help of an army of monkeys in order to rescue her. The monkeys built a bridge over from India to Sri Lanka; Rama and the army invaded the country, freed Sita, and killed Ravana. As Rama and Sita return to the north of India, millions of lights are spread out across the city, Ayodhya, to welcome them.
The History website tells me that in the south, Diwali is popularly linked to a story about the Hindu god Krishna, a different incarnation of Vishnu, in which he frees some 16,000 women from another evil king. In the western state of Gujarati, the New Year coincides with Diwali (there are multiple New Years throughout India), and Diwali is associated with asking the goddess Lakshmi for prosperity in the coming year. During the festival, many celebrants exchange gifts and coins.
The point in each of these stories is the triumph of good over evil. You’ll see sparkling electric lights adorning most households, though beautiful clay diyas are still popular (though not as weather-resistant). In Curepipe, there’s a gorgeous house draped in lights which welcomes everyone inside for Diwali treats – it’s a tradition that has gone on for the past twenty years or so. I’m sure that each neighbourhood has their own special house.
I always head to Quatre Bornes, Sodnac, and Triolet to see the most stunning light displays: from urban milieus to rural towns, everyone celebrates – and firecrackers, of course, are a must.