Festival of lights: Celebrate Diwali in SA and beyond

2017-10-11 18:19 - Kavitha Pillay
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Diwali or Deepavali is the Hindu festival of lights. (Photo: iStock)

Cape Town - Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is one of the most important festivals on the Hindu calendar. Celebrated across the world, it is referred to as the "festivals of lights".

While it is celebrated as a five-day event in most predominantly-Hindu countries, in South Africa it is usually celebrated over two days. Day one is usually celebrated by those South African Indians who have south-Indian ancestry (and call the festival Deepavali), while day two is celebrated by South African Indians who have north-Indian ancestry (who call the festival Diwali).

However, since the festival is not a public holiday in South Africa, most Hindus in the country choose to take a single day off work or school - out of convenience - to observe festivities.

ALSO SEE: 12 Great ways to feel part of the Diwali celebrations

The festivities include lighting oil lamps or candles called diyas to symbolise knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness and good over evil.

This is an act stemming from the Hindu mythology where Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Lakshman were exiled from the Kingdom of Ayodhya. They were later welcomed by the people of Ayodhya who lit clay lamps throughout India in celebration of good over evil when Rama killed the demon Ravana, and they returned from exile.

Today in South Africa, while lighting of clay lamps and fireworks is observed, communities also indulge in traditional Indian sweet and savoury treats, dress in traditional garments and use the day as an opportunity to socialise and feast with loved ones. Many communities refrain from eating meat-products on the day, while others celebrate with a proudly South African braai!

This year, Diwali is observed on Thursday, 19 October.

Here's where you can join in the celebrations which take place throughout the month:


Mount Edgecombe Country Club Diwali celebration

Mount Edgecombe Country Club Estate hosts a Diwali celebration without any fireworks. There will be a children's fancy dress competition as part of the festivities. 

When: Saturday, 21 October

Where: The Watershed

Time: 17:00 - 21:00

Cost: Free. However, since Diwali is also a time to donate to the less fortunate, the organisers request attendees to bring an item for grocery hampers to be donated.

Durban Diwali Festival

Everyone is welcome to join in the Durban Diwali Festival featuring the CMH Nissan Durban Fusion Party with Indian dancing, deejays and prizes to be won.

When: Friday, 13 October - Sunday, 15 October

Where: Old-Drive Inn Brickhill Road

Time: 19:00 to midnight

Cost: Free entry.


Diwali Festival will take place at the Weekend Market JHB where visitors can indulge in the Halaal food market and entertainment that includes dancing, henna artists and a fireworks display to round off the evening. There will also be a flea market and kids entertainment.

When: Saturday, 14 October

Where: The Weekend Market, corner Nasrec Road and Rifle Range Road in Ridgway, Johannesburg.

Time: 14:00 to 22:00

Cost: Free.

ALSO SEE: FIREWORKS: 12 Places where you can legally celebrate Diwali in Cape Town

Port Elizabeth

The Nelson Mandela Bay Diwali Festival is an annual family event which will be celebrated at the Malabar Community Centre in Haworthia Drive. Enjoy live entertainment throughout the day. Activities will also include stalls selling food, clothing and more.

When: Sunday, 15 October

Where: Malabar Community Centre in Haworthia Drive.

Time: From 10:00

Cost: Free

Diwali festivals growing in US

According to Associated Press (AP), Diwali is growing in mainstream America, where it is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others.

Public celebrations of the holiday are now "starting to pop up in places ranging from Disneyland and Times Square to parks and museums" says AP.

The Times Square event is the brainchild of Neeta Bhasin, who says that while many Indian immigrants have found great success in the US, "still people don't know much about India. I felt it's about time that we should take India to mainstream America and showcase India's rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn't find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square."

Bhasin came to the US from India 40 years ago and is president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm behind Diwali at Times Square. The event, now in its fourth year, boasts dance performances, Bollywood singers, a bazaar of food, saris and other goods, and a lighting ceremony.

The Diwali celebration at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, includes performances of traditional Indian dances and a Bollywood dance party for guests. AP says that it's "part of a festival of holidays at the theme park reflecting cultural traditions from around the world" and begins on 10 November to 7 January 2018.

In other parts of the US, San Antonio in Texas hosts one of the largest city-sponsored celebrations of Diwali, drawing more than 15 000 people each year. The 2017 event is scheduled for 4 November at La Villita, a historic arts village, and will include the release of lighted candles into the San Antonio River along the city's River Walk.

"New York City's Rubin Museum will mark Diwali with an overnight Ragas Live Festival featuring more than 50 Indian classical musicians performing amid the museum's collection of sacred Himalayan art," says AP. The event begins on 21 October and runs for 24 hours until 22 October.

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