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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Diwali, an Indian Christmas in Auckland

Diwali, aka Divali and Deepavali is the Hindu/Jain/Sikh festival held in October or November each year. In Auckland it is commemorated by a festival celebrating Indian culture in general. The stage of the main Auckland gathering is a tribute to a displaced Indian culture. Children's dance groups doing traditional Indian or modern Bolliwood dance. Indian traditional and modern music. This year there were a couple of Bolliwood dance groups that were composed of young females who were obviously European.

As a sop to the religious history, the stage entertainment finds room for a nativity play telling the Hindu story honouring the exile and ultimate return of the lord Rama, his wife Sita and his brother Lakshmana. Other versions of the festival such as the West Bengali Kali Puji, the Sikh commemoration Bandi Choorh Divas or Jainism's Lord Mahavira, attaining Moksha (release or Nirvana) don't seem to get a look in.

The small and discrete compulsory religious notes over, it's an open air party with celebrations, including street dance and commerce led by the selling of Indian clothes, vegetarian food, real-estate and banking services from temporary stands erected on the street or in a park near the entertainment going on on-stage. In other words it's the Indian version of Christmas and, at least in Auckland, is pretty much as commercialised.

I don't mean to sound cynical, it's a great party and I try to catch it every year. Many of the food stalls are commercial, but a lot of them are run by this temple or that yoga group and are fund raisers much like church fetes were in my youth. The food at these stalls seems less commercial and more authentic than much of the "kiwified" Indian food we are used to getting here. The banking and real-estate stalls can be bypassed. I did think of visiting the Air New Zealand stand to ask them about flights to India ... they don't even go to Singapore any more but other than that I shut them out and just enjoyed the party.

I love the way that many of the immigrant communities in Auckland have brought us part of their cultures and choose to share with us. Diwali and the (Chinese) lantern festival have become two of the highlights of the year.

Given that this was my first street festival since giving up smoking the question is raised, "how did I cope?" The answer is pretty well. Very few of the crowd smoked and I only caught the occasional whiff of tobacco smoke, I noticed it but didn't have any strong smoking triggers going on in my brain. When Tessa asked how I felt about one guy's smoke that I'd commented on, I said it was disappointing that he was so large that I doubted my ability to floor him with a single blow to steal his cigarette. The joke was that he looked like a repository for at least two varieties of plague and stealing a cigarette off him would have been a worse health risk than the smoking.

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