Diwali - The Festival of Lights
Diwali, or Deepavali, is a hugely popular Hindu Festival that signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. The festivals date depends on the Hindu lunar calendar but It’s usually in October or November, and is a national It is an official holiday in Fiji, Guyana, India, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and recently Sindh Province in Pakistan.
Diwali has more than a few similarities to Christmas. Homes are cleaned and then decorated, traditional food is prepared, and gifts of all sorts are given to family and friends – to highlight the point, Diwali is the biggest shopping season in India and Nepal. Though it changes from region to region, the event generally comes from an old Hindu text referring to the story of Rama. In this story Rama has been exiled and battles all manner of demons, eventually culminating in a war with the Demon King Ravana. Upon Ravana’s defeat, Rama celebrates by lighting up the path home; This event is generally celebrated throughout India and there is an overriding sense of goodwill, as it is seen as ill-mannered to be unwelcoming during Diwali. Through the story there is a focus on the ‘inner-light’ within yourself, and the triumph of good over evil.
“Lakshmi Puja” is the third day of Diwali, and is considered to be the most important. On this day friends and family visit those closest to them in recognition of important relationships, and diyas, (religious lights) are lit and placed around the house, and sometimes sent down rivers and streams. Finally, huge fireworks displays are performed, particularly in the big cities, to close out the evening.
Diwali is a family-based holiday, so if you ever get the chance to attend this event its suggested that you find a friend or family in the area to truly experience the culture of the festival.Read more
Asmara - Africa's Secret City
On the 23rd of September, Vandu will be hosting an event in partnership with DRI considering Eritrea’s induction to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The beautiful architecture of Asmara will be the main topic of the evening, but what do we know about the other aspects of this overlooked city?
According to Eritrean traditional oral history, the area of Asmara, Kebessa Plateau, was fought over by four different tribes; after some time, the women of the tribes gathered and pushed for an alliance which was eventually agreed – it’s said that Asmara was named after the women, as it means “they* (feminine*) are united” in the country’s native language, Tigrinya.
Asmara was colonised by Italy in 1889, and under Governor Ferdinandi Martini was named as the capital of Eritrea; it is home to just over 800,000 people. The city is broken up into 13 districts: Acria, Abbashaul, Edaga Hamus, Arbaete Asmara, Mai Temenai, Paradizo, Sembel, Godaif, Maekel Ketema or Downtown, Tiravolo, Gejeret, Tsetserat and Gheza Banda. Asmara sits atop the Eritrean highlands (2,350m above sea level) on the eastern edge of the escarpment. In terms of religion, Asmara is pretty diverse, with a healthy mix of Orthodox and Catholic Christianity coupled with Sunni Muslim; there have been no records of tension between the two – in fact, crime in general in Asmara is pretty unheard of, and the city itself is one of the cleanest in Africa.
So, if you didn’t have a little background information on Asmara, you do now! We hope to see you on Saturday at Westgate Chapel in Lewes, click on the link below to reserve your place and for more information.Read more
On the 20th of September this year, the Jewish community celebrate its religious New Year. ‘Rosh Hashanah’ in Hebrew literally means ‘head/first of the year’, and marks the beginning of the Jewish Days of Awe, perhaps the most important ten days in the Jewish calendar. Most synagogues are filled to the brim during these days as this is a time for repentance, and many important religious traditions are performed throughout this period.
Rosh Hashanah always starts at the beginning of Autumn, and similarly to Christianity’s Advent, has a month of preparation and build-up. Services tend to be longer, and the shofar - a hollowed out ram’s horn and staple of this time of year - is blown every weekday morning to wake people from their complacency, reflect on the year just gone and prepare for the new one ahead. Much like other versions of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah is a time to set yourself new challenges and targets for the comings months. A longer service is performed in the day, with religious poems recited and a special prayer book is used. The shofar is blown in several different manners (short, staccato, and long blows) many times through the service and during prayers, eventually the congregated will have heard 100 blows by the end of the service.
Honey dipped apple slices are an almost universal tradition on Rosh Hashanah, and are eaten to symbolise a sweet new year. Another popular practice of the holiday is Tashlikh ("casting off"). Jews walk to flowing water on the afternoon of the first day and empty our pockets into the river, symbolically casting off our sins. Small pieces of bread are often put in pockets to cast off. The common greeting for this year is ‘L'shanah tovah’ which means ‘a good year’ so…
L’shanah tovah to all our Jewish friends and colleagues!Read more
North Korea's National Day
On the 9th of September, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) celebrates its national day, but what do we know about this mysterious, troubled country? Max Fischer of The Washington Post has written that "almost any story [on North Korea] is treated as broadly credible, no matter how outlandish or thinly sourced", but we'll try seperate the fact from fiction in this post.
Following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, Korea was split in two, the two zones being the North and South. However, the divide was not only geographical but ideological too, with the Soviets and their communism taking the north, while the US held the south, spreading the ideas of capitalism. These divides eventually escalated into a three-year proxy war between the US and Soviet superpowers using the Koreans as pawns. Following the war and up until the 1980’s, North Korea actually fared a lot better than its southern counterpart, but by the 1990’s its ‘Juche’ (self-reliance) policy began to hinder rather than help the country and its people.
Not much can be said about North Korea without mentioning the Kim family. Supported by the Soviet Union, Kim Il-Sung became the first supreme leader following the creation of North Korea, and with his government he used his popularity to create a cult of personality around the Kim dynasty. Kim Sung-Il cleverly made North Korea an atheist country and supressed all religion, instead promoting far-fetched, overtly flattering propaganda to indoctrinate the masses; examples include that the Kim family ‘do not defecate or urinate’ and that Kim Il-Sung forced the Japanese out and guided the DPRK through the Korean war almost single-handedly. There are severe penalties for those who criticize or do not show ‘enough respect’ for the Kim regime.
Another ideology promoted by the Kim regime is that of ‘Juche’. This principle, and the ideas of the individual being ‘the master of his destiny’ and that the masses are “masters of the revolution and construction”. These principles were seen by those outside of North Korea as thinly-veiled mechanisms for sustaining the regime and its heavy-handed oppression of its people (North Korea regularly endures crop failures and famines, relying on foreign aid to help). Eventually in the 1990’s this gave way to the Songun or ‘military-first’ policy, and as an outcome of this we see North Korea as we do now – aggressive, nuclear-hungry, oppressive, and unfortunately, tactically-astute. The Kim regime have worked themselves into a place where there is no easy answer to the North Korea question.Read more
The Partition of India
This week marks the 70th anniversary of the Indian Partition, an event that split British India and created the two countries of India and Pakistan. At the time, relations between Muslims and Hindus were incredibly tense and the two communities felt that there was no common ground they could meet on, and so upon leaving the British Empire drew the Radcliffe Line (the border that splits India with Pakistan) with East Pakistan later becoming Bangladesh. The Indian Partition was a bloody and savage saga in India’s history, and is likened to the Holocaust in terms of cultural significance in Indian/Pakistani society.
In 1947, two years after the end of the Second World War, Great Britain could no longer afford to keep control of its largest asset, British India. Prime Minister Clement Atlee was in favour of Indian Independence and sent Britain’s final Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten, to arrange a handover. Upon arrival Mountbatten could see the simmering tensions that had boiled over more than once in the last decade, and rushed to declare independence a mere 3 months after his arrival, fearing the British would end up refereeing a civil war. India’s independence was announced on the 15th of June, 1947; the borders were announced two days after. What followed was a total breakdown of law and order. As the British empire relinquished all responsibility to two brand-new, ill-equipped and completely overwhelmed governments, and their first task was to oversee one of the greatest mass migrations ever recorded in history - in which they completely failed. As 14.5 million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were displaced and criss-crossed the new borderlines to their respective religious strongholds; terrible, terrible atrocities were committed by both sides, and historians estimate up to 2 million Indians lost their lives in the chaos.
So, what does the Partition mean to India and Pakistan now? The situation remains very complex, and the relationship is still defined by the Partition; the two countries have fought 3 major wars, an undeclared war and many armed skirmishes and military standoffs, particularly in the disputed area of Kashmir. In recent times the relations have calmed down, perhaps due to the length of time it has been since the Partition – the current Prime Minister of India is the first to be born after the Partition, indeed now most of the population were born after 1947. It suggests that time really does heal all wounds, but with nationalist rhetoric and propaganda from both sides and a nuclear standoff as recently as 2001, one feels it may take more than just time to fix this damaged relationship.