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Where the Rivers Meet: a Diwali celebration

Suriya Suresh, left, with Rashmi, another facilitator of Sangam's Diwali events

As winter draws in, what better way to meet the darker nights than with a Festival of Light - Diwali?

And it is Diwali that we explore in the third episode of MME Matters, our podcast and video series looking at policy and practice, and issues that matter to the community and to our wider society.

Diwali, which falls on the five days around 14 November this year, is said to symbolise the victory of light over darkness, or good over evil. But as I found out when I met Suriya Suresh (virtually, of course) for this episode of the podcast, the festival means a range of things in different regions.

In the South of India, for instance, the Festival is celebrated on one day; in the North it is celebrated over several days. In the North, the event celebrates the return of Rama to Ayodhya with his wife Sita, after a period of exile. In the South, it is held to mark the victory of Krishna, another avatar of Vishnu, over the power-hungry Narakasura.

This diversity in interpretations of the meaning of Diwali is matched by the diversity and inclusivity of the festival itself. Suriya recalls lots of cooking, sharing of food, and exchanges of gifts from when she was growing up, not just among the one family, but across the whole community, regardless of religous or traditional background.

"My neighbour to the right is a Muslim, and to the left is a Christian" says Suriya. ".We involve them as no one was left alone".

In recent years, Suriya and other members of the Indian community in Newry have been celebrating Diwali in just this inclusive way in Northern Ireland. Indeed, her community group, Sangam (meaning the meeting place of the rivers) has just concluded a series of events including arts and crafts, cooking and Bollywood dance - all on line this year, given the current situation with Covid.

Looking ahead, Suriya (who is a yoga instructor as well as a community organiser, on top of being a microbiologist) looks forward to offering yoga classes and meditation, and even the simple act of going for a walk with neighbours, as soon as this becomes possible.

Watch the full conversation here, and find out more about the Sangam Diwali celebrations here.

Maurice Macartney

13 November 2020


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