Diwali – sometimes called Deepavali – is a festival of light. It is a joyful time, a happy family time – observed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and in some places, Buddhists. There is a legend that Diwali commemorates the time Lord Krishna saved the earth from an incoming meteorite by raising his hand into the sky and making the meteorite explode.
For Rutu and Bhagyesh Shukla, having friends around to celebrate Diwali at their home in Mooroopna was more meaningful, after emerging from the darkness of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This Diwali was more about survival, for us it was to be grateful that we are still able to breathe and live for this day, and be thankful for the love and care we have received from everyone in this pandemic,” Ms Shukla said.
Traditionally celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Newar Buddhists, the festival arose from a story in the Ramayana, one of the largest ancient epics in world literature, composed in the 5th century BCE.
For some, Diwali marks the day Lord Rama returned from 14 years of exile with his wife Sita, brother Lakshman and devotee Hanuman. It is said the citizens expected the small group’s return and lit thousands of glowing lights to guide the way and welcome them.
The lamps symbolise the victory of good over evil, which is the message at the heart of the celebrations.
More than 34 million people in India have been infected with COVID-19 since the outset of the pandemic, and more than 460,000 of those lost their lives. Sheltered from such a high caseload in the comparative safety of the City of Greater Shepparton, Ms Shukla and her community have grieved lost family and friends from afar.
“When I say Diwali is more about survival this year, I mean last year in India the COVID cases increased after Diwali and people lost their loved ones just like water (through a sieve),” she said. “It’s been so tough to lose three, four family members in just one family.”
Ms and Mr Shukla immigrated to Australia in March 2019 and made the move to Mooroopna in September the same year. Their first child, seven-month-old son Aarush, this year celebrated his first Diwali, surrounded by a new-found community. “Generally, Diwali would be more about a sparkling clean house, making snacks and sweets, and welcoming guests with all the hospitality a person can give,” Ms Shukla said.
“This year it was not about shopping, not about a sparkling clean house, not about sweets, it was just about meeting and greeting the friends and family we have made here in an unknown country and an unknown place.” At a typical Diwali mela, which is a fair, attendees would enjoy food, henna stalls, rangoli decorations made from flowers and coloured sand lining the footpaths, and plenty of vivid fireworks.
The Shukla family and their friends replicated the festivities, and gave them their own special touches, in the backyard. “The most important thing was seeing happy faces, after so long. Everyone has been in despair in lockdown, fighting their own self, and busy with work,” Ms Shukla said.
“This was one day where we forgot everything, it was just the celebration — love, laughter, and food.”