Arriving in India ten days before Diwali, I was full of curiosity and anticipation. A country known for its colourful celebrations would surely put on a show for the biggest festival of the year. It did not disappoint, although it did surprise.
Diwali is the Festival of Lights. It is a five day festival, with the main celebrations on the evening of the new moon during the Hindu month of Kartik. It commemorates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil.
“I was told how people open their doors and light their homes with clay oil lamps named diya, and decorate their doorways with rangoli, floor patterns created with coloured sand, rice and petals.”
In the days leading up to the festival, I asked locals about its significance and their personal celebrations. Many people told me about Laxmi, the Hindu Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. I was told how people open their doors and light their homes with clay oil lamps named diya, and decorate their doorways with rangoli, floor patterns created with coloured sand, rice and petals. The decorations are said to welcome Goddess Laxmi who will bless their homes with good fortune. Others told me of their family meals, the food and sweets shared, about the grand display of fireworks and the modern tradition of firecrackers.
On the day of the Diwali I was in Shimla, set in the foothills of the Himalayas. While on a day hike, a local guide expressed his relief to be out of the city and away from the fumes of firecrackers. He shared his frustration with the pollution of recent years; a result of lavish firework displays in densely populated areas.
This was something I was already familiar with from my time in Delhi. Last Diwali, the air in the city was so thick with smoke from firecrackers that schools were closed until the smog finally lifted—seven days after the festival. An article in the local paper titled ‘The Right to Breathe’, outlined the Supreme Court’s push for a ban on firecrackers. In anticipation of the celebrations to come that evening, my feelings were mixed.
“Street sellers decorated their stalls with lights and jasmine flowers, alleyways were illuminated with fairy lights and people danced between the flickering flames of sparklers.”
As we drove back into the town, passing cars stopped to bid us a happy Diwali. People were hospitable and full of energy. Once the sun set, I wandered through the town. There were fireworks in every direction: from the streets, balconies, building sites. People cheered in sync with the blasts of fireworks and a group of children lit hundreds of diya. Street sellers decorated their stalls with lights and jasmine flowers, alleyways were illuminated with fairy lights and people danced between the flickering flames of sparklers.
During these five days, as I looked around, I was mesmerised with the beauty and charm of Diwali. But knowing the deeper issues of pollution, I understood the need for new restrictions. While the country works out how Diwali can have a brighter future with less impact, I will remember the joy and laughter on the streets shining through the smoke.
In Issue No. 1 we meet Australian fashion icon Jenny Kee, translator from Italian Ann Goldstein and French-Cuban music duo Ibeyi. We learn about Ramadan, the Aboriginal ball game Marngrook, the Kiribati dance, the art of pickling, and the importance of home. And we see what it’s like to dress up in Myanmar, live in Cuernavaca, make ceramics from different soil, and walk the streets of Florence.
In Issue No. 2 we meet New York-based Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson, and Croatian painter Stipe Nobilo. We discover how the French protect their language and the way women—all around the world—have used textiles as their political voice. We listen to lovers rock, prepare a boisterous Korean barbecue, venture to go to Feria de Jerez and eat our way around Hong Kong.
In Issue No. 4 we meet Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, Indigenous Australian Elders Uncle Bob Smith and Aunty Caroline Bradshaw, and Palestinian-American chef and artist Amanny Ahmad. We peer inside the Parisian ateliers Lesage and Lemarié, muse over the iconic lines of European chair design and celebrate the colourful woodblock prints of Japanese artist Awazu Kiyoshi. And we venture along Morocco’s Honey Highway, get lost in the markets of Oaxaca and discover the favours of Ghana.
In Issue No. 5 we travel to the mountains with Etel Adnan, along coastlines wherever waves roll in, and then all over the world through the photographic archive of Lindsay James Stanger. We celebrate hair braiding in South Africa, Salasacan weaving techniques in Ecuador, Vedic jewellery traditions and the new sound of Ukraine. We meet artist Cassi Namoda, choreographer Yang Liping and lace-maker Mark Klauber. And we visit a bakery in Tel Aviv, discover the joys of making arak, and spend a summer stretching mozzarella in Italy.