The Hindu community in the UK have criticised Mayor of London Boris Johnson's Diwali event for being held during 'shraadha', an inauspicious period in the Hindu calendar. The annual Diwali event took place on Sunday (11 October) at Trafalgar Square and is attended by thousands every year. But the National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHTUK) has accused the organisers of "lack of sensitivity and respect for ancient Hindu traditions".
The event was hosted on the final day of shraadha, which is known as Sarva Pitru Amavasya or the Night of the Departed Ancestors, which sees Hindus pay their respects to deceased family members. According to NCHTUK no festive celebrations should be carried out on this day as it is "a period of solemn reflection, prayer and heartfelt appreciation of the efforts of our departed ancestors".
"The prayers and atmosphere of reverence cultivated over the period of shraadha has never been adulterated by any festive celebrations and it is truly a tragedy that Diwali, the festival of light and wisdom, should be brought into this sacrosanct period of remembrance," said Rashmikant Joshi, president of NCHTUK. "If this were India, such an action would be unthinkable. That this should have been organised by Hindu organisations fills me with outrage that the memory of our ancestors should be taken so lightly."
NCHTUK said that they received several complaints about the event but that the organisation had not been invited to participate in the planning or to attend Diwali at Trafalgar Square for several years now, despite being the founders of the event. Members of NCHTUK did not attend the Diwali celebration on Sunday and said that "all devout Hindus and authentic temples" placed priority on the auspicious day over the early Diwali celebrations.
However, a spokesperson for Mayor Boris Johnson said that it was not their intention to offend anyone. He said that the situation was "not ideal" but that because of the Rugby World Cup, Trafalgar Square had already been booked with World Cup-related activities, which meant that this was the only date the Diwali festivities could be carried out if it were to happen this year.
"There was a lot of discussion and debate about the fact that this would be happening during shraadha," said the spokesperson. "It wasn't that everyone went blindly into it – there was concern about whether this would be seen as insensitive. It's a very unusual set of circumstances but Trafalgar Square is used for lots and lots of different events and activities throughout the year and it was the only date that it would have been able to happen."
The spokesperson confirmed that the Hindu community's concerns would be taken into account when they start planning next year's Diwali event and that it was not the Mayor's wish to "offend or upset or annoy anyone". He said: "We want to try and get it right."
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across India and abroad, making it one of the most famous Indian festivals. Diwali is believed to mark new beginnings and a renewal of commitment to family values. It also represents the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness, with the word Diwali, or Deepavali, meaning "row of lamps". Diwali falls on 11 November this year.