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How to celebrate your first Diwali abroad

Diwali celebrations
Diwali celebrations originated in India and has since then highlighted the importance of the Indian cultural identity around the world. Source: Sujit Jaiswal/AFP

Diwali is coming up and is considered one of the most important holidays of the year. The “festival of lights” originated in India and has since then highlighted the importance of the continent’s cultural identity around the world. 

Spread over five days, Diwali celebrations start with people cleaning their homes and shopping for gold in hopes of good fortune (although, this is not quite an option for students on a budget abroad). The second day is all about decorations and the third is where people gather to pray to the goddesses along with feasts and fireworks. 

 

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The last day is basically feasting at open houses and sharing the community love. With all this merriment, it’s not hard to see why Indian students abroad long for this sense of festivity and try to recreate it. Below we take a look at some affordable options that can happen between the walls of a dorm.

Day one

The cleansing ritual is an easy enough feat to do anywhere in the world — yes, that does include your messy dorm room. This means you need to clean, dust and do your laundry so you can welcome the arrival of the goddesses (Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Ganesh and Goddess Kali).

Day two

Grab as many lights as you can and light up your living area. It’s all about that colour pop — grab whatever you have and decorate your room with things like bells, flower garlands to welcome the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity (Lakshmi).

If you’re in the mood to make your own “rangoli” (traditional Indian patterns made out of coloured ground rice) design, it’s most popular to do so outside the entrance. Thanks to the internet, you can easily learn how via platforms like YouTube. 

If you’re wondering where you can get your hands on coloured rice powder for this, the internet is your best friend. For those in the US, online stores such as Etsy have sets of stencils with different-coloured packs of powder for only US$22.91.

What about the UK? Fortunately, Diwali celebrations are very popular there and this coloured powder is easily and cheaply available at your local Indian grocer’s and online. In Canada, you can find it at your local Walmart and also, yes again, online.

Day three

If, and only if, you’re a responsible student, you could consider buying a pack of tealights, light them up and place them around your “rangoli” design (best not to light candles in your room to be safe.

An alternative would be to buy LED candles (IKEA is your best friend and one of the cheapest options). Then, you could light up your student dorm including the communal areas without worrying about fire hazards.

A prayer you could get your friends to join in for Goddess Lakshmi could be as simple as: “Dearest Lakshmi, please come into my life. Fill my home with your sacred presence. Honour me with your protection and your prosperous ways. Please bring your riches both spiritual and material.”

Day four

Feast-wise, it’s definitely challenging with a student budget and the limits of your dorm having just a microwave. However, there are plenty of easy recipes out there you could easily make in the comfort of your student accommodation (if you have a kitchen, all the better). 

 

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For instance, to make this masala grilled toast, you wouldn’t have to buy extra ingredients because we’re pretty sure bread, cheese spread, butter, tomato sauce and oregano are all staples for students. The only extra thing you’d need is the Chaat masala powder which is easily available online and in stores. 

Diwali celebrations and food include snacks so if you’re feeling adventurous, get your apron. 10 snacks, one dough sounds like a great option for you as a student. With mostly basic ingredients, you could make a huge ball of dough and convert that into an array of sweet and savoury snacks. The full recipe can be found here and the video, below.

If these are too complicated, a good way to share food is to buy an array of nuts, dried fruits, and so on and arrange them on platters. The point is, during Diwali celebrations, you offer sweets and food as an old tradition that is a pure offering to the gods.

With all of this in mind, there are also many support groups online as according to AECC, 91% of Indian students are studying abroad. You could join the Indian Student Association and check Facebook and Twitter for community groups to join.