Diwali, the festival of lights, is the highlight of the Hindu religious calendar and marks the New Year. Naval Reserve base HMS President was transformed into a Hindu delight, and the event was marked with prayers, the lighting of diyas and traditional Hindu dancers. The evening ended with a traditional communal meal and a market place.
The armed forces have always been encouraged personnel observe the customs of their faith. Spiritual advisors, offer help and guidance to personnel at home and overseas.
Speaking at the event, the Armed Forces Hindu Network Champion, Rear Admiral Andrew McKay said:
I am delighted to be involved with the Armed Forces Hindu Network as their senior champion, and to support this flourishing partnership between the Armed Forces and the Hindu community. Our message is that the Armed Forces includes people from all faiths and backgrounds, and all make a vital contribution to protecting the UK’s security. As their champion, I am particularly proud of the Hindu sailors, soldiers, airmen who defend our nation’s interests at home and abroad, especially those in more recent conflicts and who are on military Operations today, at sea, on the land or in the air - away from their families during this family festival.”
Surgeon Lieutenant Commander Manish Tayal, Chair of the Armed Forces Hindu Network, recalls his first experience of Diwali in the Royal Navy
During the first phase of training at BRNC Dartmouth, you’re not allowed out of the College. Diwali fell during this period, and I’d never before been away from home on Diwali, so I asked I could visit my family for the day to celebrate with them. I was (rightly) told no, I understood but was a bit upset about it, nothing more was said.
On Diwali day, we had our usual schedule of serials. Returning from one of our sessions, I went into my cabin (which I shared with 4 others) and found 24 trainees plus our 3 Assistant Divisional Officers in the cabin. The cabin was draped in orange, rows of tea lights, along with onion bhajis, samosas, Bombay mix, and drinks, and Indian music playing from a laptop.
The group shouted “Happy Diwali” and explained they’d noticed how upset I was about not being able to celebrate, so arranged a surprise Diwali party for me. They’d looked on the internet and found that Diwali celebrations consisted of orange, lights, food and music/dance - our Assistant Divisional Officers bought the tea lights, food and drink from town, one of the group had lots of Indian music from a previous trip to India for a friend’s wedding, and the orange was the plastic sheets we’d all been issued as part of our kit for training. So I explained the story of Diwali and its message to the group, and we had a great party.
Today we are here at HMS President at a Tri Service Diwali Celebration organised and hosted by the Armed Forces Hindu Network.
Diwali is the main annual lunar festival in the Hindu calendar. The festival spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness. The festival preparations and rituals typically extend over a five-day period, but the main festival night of Diwali coincides with the darkest, new moon night of the Hindu Lunisolar month Kartika. In the Gregorian calendar, Diwali falls between mid-October and mid-November.
According to Hindu tradition, Lord Rama, the rightful heir to the throne of Ajodhya, returned from his 14-year exile on a moonless night. To welcome him back, the people lit rows of candles and set off fireworks in celebration and to light his way, lending the festival its name.
The story of Lord Rama’s triumph emphasises the messages of courage, commitment, discipline, respect, integrity and loyalty – themes reflected by UK Armed Forces core values.