Diwali in the GTA

Ben Torres took his camera with him to Charley’s West Indian  Food Store in Scarborough in time to catch shoppers stocking up on special items for Divali celebrations on Saturday. Here is his report about the festival of lights in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

By Ben Torres

diwali kids

Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, is celebrated in many parts of the world, including the increasingly multicultural Greater Toronto Area (GTA) . The descendants of indentured Indian labourers,  primarily from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, in the GTA are doing their part in keeping the tradition alive.

A weekend visit to Charley’s (Yes, that is Charley’s with a Y) West Indian Food Store in Scarborough certainly confirmed this fact. On what was a brisk and windy day with temperatures barely reaching 10 degrees Celsius outside, Charley’s was a warm and inviting beehive of activity where customers literally stood shoulder to shoulder to get their weekly shopping done.

The deyas of the past are now being challenged by the contemporary more colorful ones of today
The deyas of the past are now being challenged by the contemporary more colorful ones of today

Many of the customers (some of whom preferred to remain anonymous) replied with a resounding  “YES”,  when asked if they planned to celebrate Divali this year.

Janet, one of the managers at the store was the “perfect hostess” providing invaluable insights into the how the celebration has evolved in the GTA and going out of her way to display a selection of some of the beautiful diyas (small pots) available for sale in-store.

Filled with either ghee or coconut oil, the deyas are lit by wicks on the night of the festival. Those available at Charley’s were imported from India and take up to a month to arrive in the store from the time of order.  The deyas  on sale were not just the plain earth coloured pots I remembered from my youth in Trinidad but were multi-coloured and beautiful displays of artistic excellence.  There we even reusable brass diyas available.

For several days before Divali, fasting is common among devout Hindus and prayers (pooja) are held on the day of the festival.  Visits to places of worship are not uncommon and I was told that within the Indo-Caribbean community, these have grown in size and stature over the last 20-25 years  from converted buildings to large traditionally  designed temples.

For  those living in apartments or condos, a single diya, safely lit on a balcony, can represent a small yet equally significant celebration, replacing the very elaborate displays that are often seen in places such as Trinidad and Guyana.

For Divali, many vegetarian dishes are prepared along with traditional sweets.

Best wishes to all in the Caribbean community celebrating Divali.  May the light and goodwill generated by this festival reach out to you.