Celebrating Diwali

After Diwali on Sunday, student Divyang Patel reflects on what the Hindu festival of lights means to

The clocks are turned back the last Sunday in October as winter begins to grip London. And as I contemplate the depressing reality of afternoons in darkness, I find something to keep my spirits high - the Indian ‘Festival of Light’, Diwali, brings with it a tremendous sense of enthusiasm and occasion.

This is one of the few days of the year - besides my birthday - when I don’t mind waking up before the sun. The day begins with a family trip to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, famously known as the ‘Neasden Temple’, where the bubbling atmosphere and energy attest to the significance of arguably the most important date in the Hindu calendar. One of the things I truly appreciate about this day is that people of all levels of faith take time out of their busy lives to pay their respects to God.

As I look around at families of up to three generations together bowing down to the deities, I am reminded what Hindu culture is all about. Coming together as a family, upholding noble values, and keeping God at the centre of everything you do is never demonstrated as strongly as it is during Diwali.

The afternoon is usually spent with relatives, where there is something for everyone to enjoy. The kids are kept occupied with their numerous presents, and the grown-ups with their food, of which there is a seemingly endless amount and variety.

The evening, however, is reserved again for a ceremony at the Mandir. “Chopda Pujan”, as it is called, is a time for businessmen and women to close their account books for the current year and open new ones in readiness for the New Year the following day. It is also an opportunity for us devotees to take stock of our personal account with God.

As thousands of people visit the Mandir, several of my friends and I volunteer to help out. It isn’t a chore. Indeed, the time spent with friends contributing to the cause provides me with an enormous sense of satisfaction.

The day’s events are rounded off with a spectacular fireworks display, which is always enjoyable and a fitting end to the Festival of Light. It is not a day to stay up too late, however; the following day is the Hindu New Year, and with it comes more excitement, more festivities, more traditions, and yes, more food.

Divyang Patel, 21, graduated with BSc. Economics (First Class Hons) from the London School of Economics. Currently working at Barclays Global Investors, he volunteers at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden.

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Inside a shaken city: "I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester”

The morning after the bombing of the Manchester Arena has left the city's residents jumpy.

On Tuesday morning, the streets in Manchester city centre were eerily silent.

The commuter hub of Victoria Station - which backs onto the arena - was closed as police combed the area for clues, and despite Mayor Andy Burnham’s line of "business as usual", it looked like people were staying away.

Manchester Arena is the second largest indoor concert venue in Europe. With a capacity crowd of 18,000, on Monday night the venue was packed with young people from around the country - at least 22 of whom will never come home. At around 10.33pm, a suicide bomber detonated his device near the exit. Among the dead was an eight-year-old girl. Many more victims remain in hospital. 

Those Mancunians who were not alerted by the sirens woke to the news of their city's worst terrorist attack. Still, as the day went on, the city’s hubbub soon returned and, by lunchtime, there were shoppers and workers milling around Exchange Square and the town hall.

Tourists snapped images of the Albert Square building in the sunshine, and some even asked police for photographs like any other day.

But throughout the morning there were rumours and speculation about further incidents - the Arndale Centre was closed for a period after 11.40am while swathes of police descended, shutting off the main city centre thoroughfare of Market Street.

Corporation Street - closed off at Exchange Square - was at the centre of the city’s IRA blast. A postbox which survived the 1996 bombing stood in the foreground while officers stood guard, police tape fluttering around cordoned-off spaces.

It’s true that the streets of Manchester have known horror before, but not like this.

I spoke to students Beth and Melissa who were in the bustling centre when they saw people running from two different directions.

They vanished and ducked into River Island, when an alert came over the tannoy, and a staff member herded them through the back door onto the street.

“There were so many police stood outside the Arndale, it was so frightening,” Melissa told me.

“We thought it will be fine, it’ll be safe after last night. There were police everywhere walking in, and we felt like it would be fine.”

Beth said that they had planned a day of shopping, and weren’t put off by the attack.

“We heard about the arena this morning but we decided to come into the city, we were watching it all these morning, but you can’t let this stop you.”

They remembered the 1996 Arndale bombing, but added: “we were too young to really understand”.

And even now they’re older, they still did not really understand what had happened to the city.

“Theres nowhere to go, where’s safe? I just want to go home,” Melissa said. “I just want to be anywhere that’s not Manchester.”

Manchester has seen this sort of thing before - but so long ago that the stunned city dwellers are at a loss. In a city which feels under siege, no one is quite sure how anyone can keep us safe from an unknown threat

“We saw armed police on the streets - there were loads just then," Melissa said. "I trust them to keep us safe.”

But other observers were less comforted by the sign of firearms.

Ben, who I encountered standing outside an office block on Corporation Street watching the police, was not too forthcoming, except to say “They don’t know what they’re looking for, do they?” as I passed.

The spirit of the city is often invoked, and ahead of a vigil tonight in Albert Square, there will be solidarity and strength from the capital of the North.

But the community values which Mancunians hold dear are shaken to the core by what has happened here.

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