Rishi Sunak appeals for virtual Diwali in UK; lights diyas

Calling himself a “practicing Hindu”, chancellor Rishi Sunak lit diyas outside his house in Downing Street and on Friday appealed to the Indian community in the UK to celebrate Diwali virtually, admitting that this year the celebrations will be “difficult”.

Diwali has almost become a mainstream festival in the UK, with members of the royal family, ministers and others joining celebrations in temples and highlighting its message of triumph of good over evil. The Prime Minister holds a Diwali reception every year.

However, the Downing Street reception will not be held this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, home secretary Priti Patel and others took to social media to wish people. Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall also extended greetings.

Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys founder N R Narayana Murthy, appealed to people to follow restrictions in force in the current lockdown to last until December 2. Several councils and the London mayor have cancelled public celebrations, opting for virtual events.

Sunak said: “Faith is important to me, I’m a practising Hindu, I pray with my kids, visit the temple when I can. For us as Hindus, Diwali is special, and it’s going to be difficult this year. We’re going to get through this (coronavirus oandemic)”.

“But we’ve got Zoom, we’ve got the phone, and most importantly, we’ve got each other. Whether you can see someone or not the bond of family, that bond of love is always going to be there. And it will be there on 3 December as well…to keep everyone safe right now, just follow the rules.”

Several temples have moved to online events, while Diwali-related material and sweets continue to sell briskly in shops in London and other towns with large population of Indian origin, such as Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester.

Piara Singh Clair, deputy mayor of Leicester, which is reputed to hold one of the largest Diwali celebrations outside India, said: “This year, we all need to find different ways to celebrate important festivals like Diwali and Christmas”.

“Although we can’t meet up with our extended families in person this year, and Leicester’s usual celebrations have had to be put on hold, our virtual Diwali event will help bring people together for an experience they can share with a family member or a friend – wherever they are in the world”.

Leicester’s virtual Diwali event to be streamed live on Saturday includes sessions on rangoli, dance, prayers, animation of the history of Diwali in the city, story-telling sessions and traditional and Bollywood music.

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