Temple bells at dawn. The scent of sweet batter in hot oil. Dodging firecrackers on the street. This is Diwali as Gokila remembers it growing up in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India. Now a Project Co-ordinator at Z Energy’s Wellington office, she admits the festival looks a little different in her adopted home. But one thing is clear — it’s here to stay.
The Diwali festival celebrates the victory of light over darkness and is a full on sensory experience. Its influence has crossed continents, religions and cultures. Here in New Zealand, it’s grown from a fringe celebration to a highlight on the event calendar of every major city. In Wellington alone, over 20,000 people attended the Diwali celebration at TSB Bank Arena this year.
So what is it about this festival that speaks to so many? And what does it look like thousands of kilometres from where it first began? We caught up with Gokila and her colleagues at Z’s post-Diwali workplace celebration to find out.
It's custom to share sweets like coconut barfi and laddu (minced dough and sugar rolled into a ball) with family, friends and neighbours during Diwali. As well as being delicious, this simple act of sharing is a wonderful way to bring people together.
This is particularly powerful in a multi-cultural environment like New Zealand. As Z Operations Assistant Misha explains, food can be used “as a way to invite someone to have a conversation” and, in this situation, perhaps teach them a bit about Indian culture and challenging stereotypes.
Diwali is a word of Sanskrit origin that means ‘rows of lighted lamps’. During Diwali, diyas (clay lamps) and candles are placed around the home to cast out darkness and protect against evil. For Senior Business Analyst Jeetendra, this is one of his favourite parts of the festival. Standing on the lawn and looking back at his family home lit up by flickering lights evokes feelings of “hope and happiness”.
Lesser known outside of India is the practice of rangoli, an art form traditionally performed by women using dyed powders to create patterns on floors and courtyards. It’s something that Senior Application Support Analyst Sangeeta wanted to share with her work colleagues. Rangoli is a signature Diwali decoration and also shows the diversity within Indian culture itself. Depending on where you’re from, rangoli can change from floral and free-form patterns to ones that are more geometric and precise.
For Gokila, the custom of wearing new clothes during Diwali plays a large part in her early childhood memories of the festival. She remembers “nagging Dad for Diwali shopping” with her sister, the “excitement around new fashions coming into the market and comparing what you got with your friends”.
What you wear can certainly change an ordinary day into a special one. But Diwali is not a public holiday in New Zealand, so you’re likely to go to your job and wear your office clothes. For this reason, it can become “just another day”. A workplace Diwali celebration is a great way to change that and create an opportunity to share Indian culture with others.
All Indian festivals are marked with togetherness and the joy of being with other people. It's this that Anudeep thinks is the key to Diwali’s enduring appeal. The festival is a chance for family, friends and the wider community to get together at least once a year and have fun.
Z believes the workplace is part of your wider community and it’s important to build strong relationships with those within it. By hosting their first Diwali celebration in-house, staff had the chance to have fun, ask questions and learn more about one of the many cultures that make up their workforce.
If you’re interested in promoting diversity and inclusive practice at work, think about the cultures that make up your workforce. Is there an event or festival you could celebrate together?
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