We have been invited to a Diwali party in the local park this afternoon. Diwali is the festival of lights and is a celebration that is complex because it is celebrated in different ways by several different cultural groups; Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhists. It is a public holiday in Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore and Fiji.
Even within Hindu beliefs, there are regional variations about its origins.
In its most basic form, it is the celebration of light over dark, good over evil, or hope over despair. Regardless of your own personal belief, I think that is an idea that anyone could appreciate. Even without the religious stories, it is a wonderful reason for a party. And according to the India Journal, party is what people do. Diwali in India is the shopping equivalent of Christmas in the western world, or Lunar New Year in Asia.
Traditional gifts at Diwali include sweets, but extend to any gift. Interestingly, yet not surprising given the diversity of India, not all states in India spend up big during Diwali. The buying season changes depending on where you live. Unlike the west, where everyone goes crazy at the same time (Christmas), the huge variety of cultures in India means that the festival spending is spread across the year.
Personally, I find this variety quite fascinating. At school this term the children are studying different belief systems. An argument often used by atheists is that the difference between an atheist and a monotheist (someone who believes in only one God) is miniscule. The reasoning is that over human history, there have been thousands of different gods and thousands of different belief systems. Right now, it is estimated that there are 4,200 different religions currently in existence on Earth.
To complicate things, some religions have multiple gods (polytheism) such as Hindu with up to 310 deities.
If we assume 5,000 different gods right now, then someone who believes in one god, therefore DOESN’T believe in 4,999 gods. The atheist says “I believe in zero gods”, and uses this rational to claim that the monotheist believes in 0.02% of gods – or almost zero. Thus there is little difference between them.
In reality, most people who believe in a god or gods don’t care for the numbers. There is a whole field of science that covers the psychology of religion dating back to the mid-1800s. The text “Varieties of Religious Experience” written by William James in 1901 is deemed by many to be the classic founding work on the topic. It is quite fascinating to read discussion on the differences between institutional religion (society) and personal religion (mystical experiences).
The way that religion binds groups of people together is probably crucial to the way we have developed as a society. From an evolutionary point of view, we need to work together as a group to survive. This leads into technological advances and modern society.
In a nation of immigrants like Australia, the questions of religion become less relevant as we all bring different cultures into one location. The children’s assignment is useful as it illustrates different religions and helps them understand different cultures. And by knowing more about other people, they can form a truly multicultural society without fear of the unknown.
All this cogitative thought is probably over-thinking the whole issue. My kids decide their friendships in a simple way.
“Hey, wanna play handball?”
Adults could probably learn something from them. Stop worrying about what other people think of us, and just hang out with the person (regardless of race, language, gender, or anything else) that likes the same stuff as you.
Back to Diwali, we had to bring a plate to share to the party today, so I made Nankhatai cookies. They originate from northern India and essentially shortbread flavoured with cardamom and nutmeg.
- 1 cup Flour
- ¼ cup chickpea flour
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tbsp semolina
- 3 pinches of nutmeg powder
- ½ tsp cardamom powder
- ½ cup butter (80g)
- ½ cup of fine sugar
- ½ tbsp plain yoghurt
- 1 tbps milk
- Almonds for decoration
Get a baking tray and rub butter all over it (to stop them sticking). In one bowl, using a blender, cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. In another bowl, mix the two types of flour, baking soda and baking powder together. Add the yoghurt to the butter/sugar mixture and mix together. Now add the butter mixture to the bowl of dry ingredients. Add the semolina, nutmeg and cardamom powder on top. Mix the whole lot together gently. It will still be a bit crumbly, so add the milk and softly mix together into a dough.
Turn oven on to 180oC.
Pull out small pieces of dough (about palm sized) and roll into a ball. Slightly flatten them and place on the buttered baking tray. Repeat this until you have a whole tray of little biscuits. Press one almond into the top of each biscuit for decoration. Put the whole lot in the oven for 20-25 minutes until they are a golden colour.
Remove and cool on wire racks.