Skip to main content

Hundred Years of Diwali Celebrations in South Africa

A new book on Indian indentured laborers reveals that 2007 Diwali Celebrations in South Africa marks the 100th year of celebrations in the country.

The Times South Africa reports

Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed uncovered interesting information during research for their new book, “Inside Indenture.”

Desai said their research led them to an important movement called the Hindu Young Men’s Association, which was formed in 1907 and organized the first communal Diwali celebrations in a hall.

“It shows that although Indians arrived in Durban in 1860, it took almost 50 years for them to win the right to celebrate Diwali in 1907,” said Desai.

The festival was officially recognized by municipal officials only in 1907, when Hindus were given permission to celebrate the occasion.

“Being the 100th year of celebrations, we need to recognise and pay homage to those indentured labourers and many other Hindus who sacrificed a great deal to convince the white colonial authorities that Hinduism was a religion and that they had a right to cele- brate Diwali,” said Desai.

What would have Diwali meant to thousands of families living under oppressive conditions in a far off country? Did they lose track of time? They might not have known the exact date but the families would have surely discussed about Diwali and looking at the moon they would have surely told stories about Diwali to their children.

Fifty years after their arrival in South Africa, when the families officially celebrated Diwali, it surely would have been a momentous occasion because a young generation was actively participating in the celebrations – a generation which did not know how the celebrations were held in India.

Diwali might have given hope to thousands of indentured families, who lived under oppressive conditions. For many an opportunity to go back to the roots of their faith, and for some an opportunity to do something that you've already done in your homeland but was not permitted in the new home.