Diwali or Deepavali – the festival of lights is one of the biggest festivals celebrated by our South Asian communities and followers of Hinduism, Jainism, Newar Buddhism and Sikhism. While different communities have their own variations of the stories and customs, the unifying theme in these celebrations is the victory of light over darkness.
This year, Diwali falls on the 12 November. The festival coincides with the darkest new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar Calendar (corresponding to October/November of the Gregorian calendar). On the days leading up to Diwali, it is common to see homes and workplaces being cleaned, painted, renovated and decorated. Celebrations usually last for five or six days and festivities include fireworks, oil lamps, family feasts, sweets, gifts, music, dancing and prayer ceremonies. People also make rangoli at home. Rangoli, which means an array of colours is an art of decoration drawn on the floor or the entrances of homes and is said to bring good luck and prosperity.
With the big day just around the corner, we caught up with Apoorva Rajashekar, a Mental Health Service Lead - Wellington North at Tū Ora Compass Health to find out how she and her family celebrate the festival.
What does Diwali or Deepavali mean to you and how do you celebrate it?
“I am from Karnataka, a state in South India and we call it Deepavali. This festival is celebrated over three days and each of the days holds a different significance. The fondest memories that I have are of lighting firecrackers with family and friends. As children we always made it a point to set aside a few firecrackers for later as treats.
Deepavali means light and comes from the Sanskrit word for ‘a row of lights’. The main philosophy of the festival is victory over darkness; and knowledge over ignorance. We welcome light into our lives and let go of darkness during these celebrations. At home, Deepavali has been also linked to cleanliness and letting go of baggage (emotional and mental). Closer to the festival, we do a major spring clean of our home and offer gratitude and prayers to everything that serves us. It is also the time where we make big purchases like cars, upgrading our TV etcetera.
The celebration focusses on happiness, joyous sound and colours. We wear new clothes and at dusk along with our family, we light earthen lamps and firecrackers. Our homes are illuminated with lamps and we eat a sumptuous meal and savour loads of delicious sweets. We also share gifts with our near and dear ones like people do during Christmas.”
Are the celebrations back home different to how you celebrate here, in Wellington?
“It is very different to how I celebrate in India. A lot of the festivities are around sharing gifts with our family and that is not something that we can do from here. I order gifts online and send cards to my family. This is not the same but it is a way to remind ourselves of the important things in life and who doesn’t like getting gifts!
Here, in Wellington, we visit the temple to pray and celebrate by dancing. We don’t light firecrackers though, we have to wait for Guy Fawkes!
At work, my colleagues have been wanting to try cooking some dishes and so I thought that this year it would be a good opportunity for us to try our Indian culinary skills. We are planning to share some Indian recipes and we will be having an Indian cuisine Diwali potluck.”
How did you end up working in the Mental Health Space?
“Prior to moving to New Zealand, I majored in Organisational psychology and worked as a lecturer. After moving here, I trained in Counselling Psychology and Addictions. I was drawn to the impact of Mental Health and addictions as it can carry stigma and requires having a balance between them. I have worked with clients in crisis, which got me thinking I could do more preventive work to try to avoid that stage.
Last year I started working as a Health Improvement Practitioner (HIP). I work in medical centres and I am available on site so people don’t have to wait for long to access support.
I find this role very fulfilling as I feel I have been able to contribute to someone’s overall wellbeing. At the end of the day, I feel I have contributed to making somebody’s life a bit better. It is a bit like showing someone how to fish rather than giving them a fish.”
What is a Health Improvement Practitioner (HIP)?
“People visit the GP / Nurse practitioner when they have a health issue to find out what to do about it. Similarly, HIPs work with clients on issues like stress, lifestyle and come up with a plan to work on their health and lead a fulfilling life. It is designed as an early intervention and this supports their mental wellbeing. It is not about medications, but about providing tools to people to support them leading a fulfilling life
Anyone who comes to see a GP / Nurse practitioner can see an HIP. There is no referral criteria and it is a free service for all who have registered with a medical centre. We are focussing on and encouraging people who face barriers, access the support they need.”
How do you support people from diverse cultures?
“We have access to all the facilities at the GP services; this includes health coaches, and language line, for translators. We are also able to use the services and expertise of a support person who can help when people face common barriers like languages.
Our clients already have a relation with the practice and the GP / Nurse practitioner. This is very helpful as the client is walking in with a sense of trust and the HIPs are representing an organisation that the client already believes in.
We also go through additional training to support the Maori and Pasifika communities. When I work with people from other communities and life experiences than mine, I find it easier to be curious and ask a lot of questions. I find that people are always happy to share.”
Could you describe what you are wearing?
“I am wearing a saree. Saree is a women’s garment from South Asia and comes in different types and styles of draping. I am wearing a Chanderi Cotton Silk - handloom saree. This is lightweight, fresh and perfect to wear during the warmer weather. At one point, Chanderi sarees were quite popular among the royals!”
What would you will like people to think about after reading this article?
“Enjoy some nice Indian sweets! A great option is to order a box of assortments as this will mean you get to experience a variety of sweets. Let this festival give you a reason to think about the concept of good over evil. It is not all about one entity over other, but more around what are good virtues and values.
Take the time to celebrate and reflect on the values you want live by and use this opportunity to let go off what doesn’t serve the purpose.”