image captionThe Festival of Lights is the highlight of the year for Northern Ireland’s Hindus, Sikhs and Jains
It has been described as a combination of Christmas and new year, but this year’s Diwali festival in Northern Ireland will be much changed.
The Festival of Lights is the highlight of the year for Northern Ireland’s Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
This weekend’s events have been severely restricted due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
But organisers have taken steps so some celebrations can still take place.
Festivities began on Thursday, with the main event at the Hindu temple in north Belfast taking place on Saturday.
image captionIt has been described as a combination of Christmas and new year
Normally hundreds of people would gather there for prayers, something that cannot happen this year.
“We have curtailed down into three different sections of half an hour and people have been asked to book their slot and to wear all their masks and everything – full Covid restrictions will be in place,” said Ashok Sharma of Belfast’s Indian Community Centre .
“In normal circumstances it’s a really big family get together, children working in London or wherever, they all come home, it’s like Christmas to us.
“This year, we are trying to make as much of it as possible by dividing this into three slots and asking people to watch us online.
image captionBefore the pandemic, hundreds of people would attend the Hindu temple in north Belfast
“The service is live on Zoom and also on Facebook – people can watch us and they can perform their own prayers and offerings.
“We’re very flexible people, we know how to celebrate when the going gets get tough.”
Mr Sharma said people who have booked slots will be told what area they can go to at the temple and will give their details for track and tracing.
“We have non-contact forehead cameras, we have the face-masking, we have the gloves and hand gel,” he added.
Mr Sharma said normally for Diwali “people just come and they have the new outfits, they greet each other, they exchange gifts, they exchange sweets and the kids get new clothes, it’s like Christmas comes twice for the children.
He added: “Every Diwali we do a cultural, musical programme upstairs with 300 or 400 people singing Bollywood songs and dancing, and a free feast downstairs for all the devotees and attendees, which is open to everyone.
image captionIn normal years food is prepared for those taking part
“Most of the Indian houses will be lit with Christmas lights, my house will be lit, the Indian Community Centre will be lit on Saturday – we’ll try to do whatever we can do.”
Diwali symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
It is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.
Manju Tandon, another active member of the Belfast temple, said it was a very important time of year for the Indian community in Northern Ireland.
image captionThe festival symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance
She said: “It is great to get the family together, which is not going to happen this year, and we would do prayers and all the friends would exchange presents and gifts and we would go to the temple for an hour, hour-and-a-half service, which is restricted as well this year.
“I have three daughters, so I’ll only be able to see one daughter, which is quite disappointing.
“So there’s going to be no family prayers which we do every year and I would have had all my brothers and sisters-in-law.
image captionOrganisers have taken steps so celebrations can still take place this year
“But what can you really do – even decorating the house – it used to be that family would come in and help you decorate the house and we would light the candles together and that was so important for the family.
“But we’re all in this together and what can you do?
“We’re doing our best, like everybody else.”