Happy Diwali! Celebrating the festival of lights in Sweden

Happy Diwali! Celebrating the festival of lights in Sweden
Happy Diwali to our readers! Photo: AP Photo/Ajit Solanki
Diwali Day on October 19th marks the culmination of the week-long Hindu festival of lights. But how do you celebrate when you are more than 6,000 kilometres away from home?

The Local asked some of our readers based in Sweden what they are doing.

“Diwali is the biggest festival for us and every year my family gets together to celebrate. We decorate the house with lamps and diyas (candles) and bright orange marigold flowers. We invite friends and extended family over and enjoy a traditional Diwali dinner,” says Rupali Mehra, a journalist who travels a lot but is currently based on the island of Gotland, about how she used to spend the holiday back home in Mumbai.

“I am travelling to Kiruna this year, and my husband is in Uppsala, so we really haven't got a chance to celebrate. But we plan to have a small Diwali party for friends in the coming days.”

Diwali formally lasts for five days, this year from October 17th to 21st, with each day having its own rituals.

It starts of with the day of Dhanteras, on which people clean their house and decorate it and go out to buy items to prepare for the rest of the festival.

“'Dhan' means wealth and 'teras' means the 13th day of the moon cycle. We went out with the family and bought something for our home. It is important to involve the kids so that they learn about the culture, away from India,” business developer Sujay Dutta explains.

“Because we are Bengalis, we also go to Kali Puja being organized in Stockholm,” he says.

The preparations continue on the second day, Choti Diwali, followed by the main festive day, and two final days which celebrate the love between wife and husband, and the lifelong bond between brothers and sisters. Formally, the bulk of the festivities takes place on October 19th, this year, but many in Sweden are putting the celebrations on hold for the weekend, when there is more time.

Diwali originated as a cultural and religious festival in the Hindu world to mark the last harvest before the winter, and although it is observed by people of various faiths and traditions today, food still plays a major part.

“Decorating the house, making it look festive and preparing sweets at home, also performing religious rituals, is my favourite part,” says Ananya Dutta, a Stockholm-based IT consultant who is a regular artist at the Indian Embassy and is involved in the running of several major Indian events and organizations in Stockholm.

READ ALSO: I wanted to show Sweden what India is to me

“The best part of Diwali is of course the sweets. In India we prepare eight to ten varieties of sweets this season. It's of course sad that we can't buy those here or can't prepare those due to the lack of ingredients. But we will always make four or five and sometimes our parents send from India too,” says Renjith Ramachandran, founder of Search Indie, who moved to Sweden from Kerala in southern India in 2008.

“This year we distributed the sweets at our office, and visited our neighbours and shared the sweets. The fun part of Diwali, especially for the kids, is burning crackers and lighting the house with lamps. We usually light 'tomtebloss' (the Swedish word for sparklers) and it's a lot of fun for kids,” he says.

More than 25,000 Indians are based in Sweden, according to national number crunchers Statistics Sweden, and Indian festivals have played a big part in Sweden this year. For example, the Stockholm Culture Festival 2017 had an India-theme, and business fair Make in India was held in Stockholm earlier this month.

Plenty of Diwali celebrations are also being organized by Indian communities across Sweden, larger festivities as well as smaller get-togethers with friends just to get in the spirit of the season.

“It feels great to celebrate it here, as we try to feel at home,” says Ananya Dutta, who moved to Sweden more than 12 years ago.

For Mehra, who moved to the island of Gotland with her husband earlier this year, she finds it strange being so far away from home for the first time since relocating to Sweden.

“Oh, yes it is. Especially since Diwali is a time when we meet relatives we haven't met all year. There is so much joy, warmth and celebration in spending time with aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins! So being away from that is a bit strange. Nonetheless, thanks to technology I can wish everyone well over a video call!”

Ramachandran tries to get back to India as often as he can: “We usually travel to India every year during any of the festive seasons. Two years back we were in India for Diwali and it's a lot of fun.”

“Of course you won't get the real festiveness in Sweden, but what with having a lot of friends and get-togethers during the season we are happy. It's nice to see the community has grown tremendously in the past couple of years and we will usually have two to three Diwali parties in our closed circle these weeks.”