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Diwali celebration held in Orillia

By Patrick Bales, The Orillia Packet & Times

Mahi Patel sings a song of remembrance during the Diwali celebration Sunday in Orillia. (PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES)

Mahi Patel sings a song of remembrance during the Diwali celebration Sunday in Orillia. (PATRICK BALES/THE PACKET & TIMES)

The growing community of Indo-Canadians in Orillia and the surrounding area celebrated Diwali Sunday.

The Hindu festival of lights — which falls in the autumn every year in the Northern Hemisphere — is a gathering of friends and family to celebrate the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.

The celebration stems from the victory of Hindu God Lord Rama over a demon king. Raj Patel, one of the organizers of the event in Orillia, said the celebration most resembles a combination of Christmas and New Year’s in Western cultures.

“Just a different name for a different culture,” he said. “It’s just basically a joy time. Put your present, past and future to the side and just have a joy.”

Diwali this year was officially Oct. 19, but celebrations have been found in various communities throughout the fall, with Orillia’s being one of the later gatherings, as to avoid a conflict with another event organized by the city’s Indo-Canadian community earlier in the fall.

About 120 people took part in the day-long celebration at the Masonic Hall on James Street, highlighted by games, performances and food. Despite the cultural gap, a universal similarity is found between Diwali and many Western celebrations.

“The favourite part of the day is the food,” said Jaimin Mahnt, another of the organizers.

Both Mahnt and Patel raved about the jalebi, a sweet dish served on special occasions. Patel compared the preparation to make it properly to a turkey dinner: It’s not something that’s going to be brought out every weekend.

The Indo-Canadian community is growing throughout Simcoe County, with people taking part in the Diwali celebration Sunday from the Collingwood, Barrie and Bracebridge areas.

“We’ve been getting really strong in Orillia,” Patel said. “From 2011 to now, we are slowly building up. When I first came in 2011, pretty few families were here. Now, in the last couple of years, when we get together, it’s about 150 to 200 people.”

Organizers want the attendance at such Indo-Canadian celebrations as Diwali to better reflect the make-up of the community, where people from all cultural backgrounds come together in celebration and friendship.

“We are trying to make a nice community,” Patel said. “There’s quite a bit going on in the surrounding area, but we’re trying to make it local as well.”

“We try to maintain our culture in Canada so the kids of ours and other people get to know (what) Diwali is,” Mahnt added. “It’s for everybody ... We need everybody to get involved and know about the culture as we have accepted the culture of Canada.” 

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