The UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has urged fellow Hindus to “follow the rules” during Diwali as he lit small clay oil lamps on the doorstep of his official residence at 11 Downing Street to mark the beginning of the five-day festival of lights.
Diwali, which began on Thursday, is celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. Lamps and candles are lit in doors and windows of homes and temples, and the holiday usually features firework displays. The main day of the festival is Saturday.
Sunak acknowledged that Diwali would be difficult under Covid lockdown restrictions, but said: “We’re going to get through this. And it’s going to be so much better on the other side.”
Outdoor celebrations around the UK have been cancelled because of the pandemic. Many councils are providing online Diwali celebrations on Saturday, and families are being urged to celebrate via social media and Zoom.
Sunak told the BBC: “Faith is important to me. I’m a practising Hindu. I pray with my kids, visit the temple when I can – at the moment rather less so because I’m busy.
“For us as Hindus, Diwali is special, and it’s going to be difficult this year. 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.”
He added: “We’ll have lots of happy times afterwards. But to keep everyone safe right now, just follow the rules.”
Leicester city council is hosting a virtual Diwali celebration, featuring video messages posted by members of the public and footage of last year’s fireworks, as well as music, dance and the traditional lighting of the diya lamp.
“We all need to find different ways to celebrate important festivals like Diwali and Christmas this year,” said the deputy mayor, Piara Singh Clair. “Although we can’t meet up with our extended families in person this year, our virtual Diwali celebration will help bring people together for an experience they can share with a family member or a friend – wherever they are in the world.”
Birmingham University is hosting a virtual cultural concert featuring musicians and dancers from around the world.
London’s main Diwali celebration, which usually takes place in Trafalgar Square, has moved online.
Sister Jayanti, the chair of the Diwali in London Committee 2020, said: “This Diwali is going to be very different from all the others we have ever experienced. Yet I’m sure the spirit of Diwali will definitely be well and strong.
“Diwali is the celebration of light and so, coming at a time of darkness, when there seem to be many sad stories of bereavement, sickness and financial hardship all caused by a virus, we need to ensure that our inner light stays ignited.”
According to a survey carried out by the money transfer business WorldRemit, four out of five people of south Asian heritage in the UK say Diwali means being close to family and friends, with only about a third mentioning its religious meaning.
Boris Johnson posted a video online wishing people Shubh Diwali (Happy Diwali). He said: “Running through the occasion is the central message of good over evil, hope over despair, knowledge over ignorance, an uplifting message that I believe we can all take to our hearts.”