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Diwali and Bandi Chhor Divas: Shining a 'virtual' light on festivities

By Minreet Kaur
BBC London

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image captionNeasden Temple is normally full during Diwali celebrations

Millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains will celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, this week - but this year Covid-19 and the measures to fight the virus have meant it will be very different from the usual celebrations.

It is a time for families but many will not be able to gather alongside the relatives with whom they would usually mark the festival.

Sachin Vasani, from Leicester, will not be able to see his grandmother. "It breaks my heart not being able to visit my gran who's in a care home suffering from dementia," he said.

"She's the number one woman in my life.

"I feel terribly sad not seeking her blessings, or being there to give her a hug and kiss."

image captionThe Miglani family say they will be contributing more to charities

The Miglani family, from London, will also not be able to be with their wider family.

"This year, Covid has changed everything as we could not travel to India where our family are," said Priyanka.

"Instead we are contributing more to charities, as helping others makes us happy, and hoping Diwali in 2021 will be celebrated in full spirit."

image captionDiwali is near Herprit Kaur Plahe's birthday

It is the same for Herprit Kaur Plahe, a self-taught cake artist from Surrey, who would normally spend Diwali with her family, including her two young daughters.

"Diwali is always extra special because it's near my birthday," she said. "We usually get together with my parents who I am really close to and we can't this year. It's really heart breaking."

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Sikhs will also be taking part in Bandi Chhor Divas, commemorating the release from prison and return to Amritsar of the sixth guru or spiritual leader, Guru Hargobind, in 1619.

Raj Manvinder Singh Kang, from the Sikh Council, said: "This year things will be different to reflect the current Covid-19 guidelines. Families won't be able to see their loved ones, especially the older generation, as many are shielding or being precautious due to the virus.

"Gurdwaras have had to find alternative ways to ensure that community can still be connected so many have set up live stream programmes on a daily basis."

image captionHundreds of people pack into Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Southall for Diwali in normal times
image captionHow the gurdwara looks this year, with social distancing in place

This year marks an important anniversary for the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, better known as the Neasden Temple, in west London. It was 25 years ago that it opened its doors.

Tarun Patel, a volunteer at the temple, said: "If there is one positive thing that has come out of this pandemic it is that it has brought people closer. Just look at the Marcus Rashford story.

"All our volunteers throughout the country have been involved in such activities and have provided hot meals to hospitals, police, fire brigade and in fact all front-line workers.

"We have sent over 50,000 meals to the elderly and infirm, and made over 20,000 phone calls to ask after them."

image captionNeasden Temple, pictured here during previous Diwali celebrations, is marking its 25th anniversary this year

Many communities will have to be content with virtual celebrations but Joydeep Das, founder of the East London and Essex Community Association, said it would still be "a festival not to forget" despite the restrictions.

"We are extremely delighted that our friends and families on the Facebook community association are coming together to celebrate the spirit of Diwali," he said.

"We are really pleased to offer all families to join in virtually with food, dance, sweet and snacks stalls along with some candles, fireworks and DJ entertainment to round off the celebrations.

"We see this event being a success through the impact it has, how many people's lives it's touched and how many people it will bring together. This community we have created around us, especially in today's tough times, aspires to achieve so over the next many years."

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