For millions of South Asians around the world, November brings the Indian new year and Diwali. A festival that honours the triumph of light over dark, good fortune over bad, Diwali or Deepavali, has also become a major date on the Canadian calendar.
Celebrations take place in homes and temples from coast to coast this month and in Vancouver, a weeklong nod to the festival in the form of workshops and community events culminates in an extravaganza of Indian culture this Saturday, with a celebration downtown.
"It's like our Christmas," said Joti Dhesi, co-publisher of the online magazine jugnistyle.com.
Diwali is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains alike.
For Hindus, it marks the victory of Ramachandra, the seventh incarnation of the god Vishnu, over the demon king Ravana. Lore has it that Ravana kidnapped Rama's wife Sita, and he set off on a 14-year battle to free her, and when he returned to his people with his bride at his side his people lit lanterns to celebrate.
Hindus still light their homes today to celebrate the triumph of good over evil, and as a symbol of "inner light," according to several websites.
For Sikhs, the holiday marks the release of the sixth guru of the faith, Guru Hargobind, and 52 rajas from imprisonment by Emperor Jahangir in 1619. Some believe the first stone of the Golden Temple at Amristsar, Sikhism's holiest site, was laid during Diwali.
In the Jain religion, according to jainuniversity.org, Diwali honours the attainment of moksha, or the liberation of the soul, by Mahävir, one of 24 sages of the religion.
Last year, Dhesi, who is Sikh, was in India for the festival and was awed by the spectacle.
"It was amazing to see," she said.
The entire country was celebrating and everywhere were the little decorated clay pots, called diyas, that are filled with oil and lit like candles.
"The entire village in the middle of night is all lit up. It doesn't matter, rich or poor, everyone is celebrating it and everyone is lighting up candles. In the middle of the night, you walk down the street and all you see are lights everywhere, candles lit everywhere," Dhesi said.
In Canada, celebrations are largest in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, she said, but celebrations everywhere revolve around the family and the temple. The holiday is really about family, she said, and food. Lots of very good food.
"The sweets, you only get to have them during weddings or big festivals, so that's one of the best parts," said Dhesi, who recommends jalebis, a batter fried until it's crunchy, dipped in caramelized sugar and rolled in sugar again for good measure, or gulab jamun, an Indian donut hole soaked in syrup.
Her night will involve a gathering at the temple, a feast with family, a sweet — or two — and fireworks.
Dance is not necessarily a part of Diwali, but it's a part of the Indian culture and many of the larger celebrations include dance and music, she said.
"South Asians when they celebrate something there's always a musical or dance aspect of it, because there are so many different types of dance that come from different areas."
The official Diwali celebration in Vancouver began last weekend, with the first of several cultural workshops around the city to get participants primed for the finale downtown this Saturday.
Sean Devine, festival producer, said what began nine years ago as a one-day event that drew about 600 people had a crowd of 10,000 last year.
At the party planned at the Roundhouse Community Centre from 3 to 8 p.m. this Saturday, there will be bhangra music and dance, Bollywood dancing, an Indian craft market and food, food, food.
It also features some most interesting fusions of culture and style, including Sticks N' Skins, an ensemble of Indian, African, Brazilian, Cuban and First Nations percussionists.
"Although it's widely known as a South Asian holiday and a South Asian cultural festival, it has become much more of a multi-cultural event," Devine said.
"It could simply be evidence of the fact that South Asian culture is such a big factor in Vancouver, as seen in the population, in the neighbourhoods. But the other thing we believe is that because of the positive values that the holiday of Diwali represents, it's something that we find is of value to just about anybody," Devine said.
If you go:
Check out www.vandiwali.com for schedules of workshops this week and performances at the finale on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Celebrations large and small take place across Canada. See www.deepavali.net for information on festivals in Toronto and Calgary.
In Toronto, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu temple has several events planned this month: www.toronto.baps.org.