The Observer (Kampala)

4 December 2012

Uganda: When Museveni Did Diwali

"In the dark night of the new moon comes the glow of the burning diyas. Among the stars sparkles the bright fireworks. The night's loneliness is broken by joyful laughter. The soft breeze brings the sweet smell of deeps and incense. In the bitter cold is the sweetness of sweets. In the colourless night there are colourful rangolies. This is Diwali."

It was with this colourful reading that Rajesh Chaplot, the chairman of the Indian Association Uganda, opened the celebration of Diwali festival at State House, Entebbe. To many Ugandans, Asians are all work, accumulating wealth while saving every last coin, and driving back home on a scooter with the whole family.

But last Thursday, the Indian community redefined this stereotype when they threw all caution to the wind and partied to mark Diwali. The Diwali is a Hindu festival known as the festival of lights and is celebrated for five days. This year the celebration started on November 13.

However, the plan was to celebrate with President Yoweri Museveni, but since he was out of the country - the celebrations were moved to November 22. Tororo Municipality MP Sanjay Tanna and NRM Deputy National Treasurer Singh Katongole had worked hard to ensure the President gives the Indians at least an hour of his time.

But when Museveni entered the hall, he was asked to wait for everything to be ready and perfect before he was allowed to light the candle of peace, be decorated with flowers and cut the cake.

"Ugandans welcome and integrate outsiders; do not look at yourselves as perpetual outsiders. You are now part of Ugandan society and I say this with a lot of authority," Museveni told the Indians who couldn't contain their excitement at getting a chance to dine with the President.

The Indian women in their colourful embroidered saris and men in their traditional panchas, spared no effort to impress. Buganda Kingdom's Minister of State for Finance Planning and Economic Development Rajni Tailor sat at one table with Indian businessmen Pradip Karia and Singh Katongole, downing a bottle of John Walker Black Label.

Often they would joke in Luganda and shower Annet Nandujja and her dancers with money. Joystna Ruparelia sat at another table with her daughter Meera Ruparelia. They were prepared to have everything done right, with Apoorva Bhat putting on a colourful dance.

The origin of the festival lies in the Hindu epic Ramayana. Diwali commemorates Hindu gods Ram and Sita's return to the kingdom of Ayodhya. Their return ends their epic journey to Lanka after Ram vanquishes the demon Ravan and rescues his wife. On their way back to Ayodhya, people lit lamps to celebrate and from then on every year it is celebrated as Diwali.

Diwali is the victory of good over evil. It is celebrated by lighting lamps, fireworks and exchanging gifts among the Indian population. It is widely observed throughout India and other countries having the presence of people of Indian origin. In Uganda, Diwali is celebrated at the Indian SSDM temple in Nakasero, Swami Narayam Temple and other temples where devotees perform all the rituals. Indians decorate their homes with lights, flowers and oil lamps.

This year the Indian Association Uganda held a food festival at Speke Resort Munyonyo to commemorate the day. The epic of Ramayana is so significant in India that when the TV series based on Ramayana was televised, the towns would be deserted, public buses and trains come to a standstill. India is known for multitudes of people on the streets, the biggest train network; so, when all these come to a standstill, then one understands the significance of this epic Ramayana to the Indian people.

"We worship the goddess of Lakshmi during this festival. Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth; we wish Uganda all the wealth and prosperity. We dedicate some time of the year to renewal of our lives and our faith. We reflect on what has gone before and to reconnect with the light which lies within us.

Together and through the celebration of our festivals, we can increase consciousness of the ways in which light can triumph over darkness and good will over evil. We can recommit ourselves to be that light in the world," said Chaplot.

India thrives on culture, multiple tribes or castes and tens of languages, hundreds of dialects and multiple religious faiths. The predominant religion on the Indian continent is Hinduism, a conglomeration of distinct intellectual or philosophical points of view, rather than a common set of beliefs. The faith, with about one billion followers, is the world's third largest after Christianity and Islam.

The Indian Association Uganda has engaged in various social activities in Uganda this year, with the most recent being the heart operation project. The association sponsored 20 needy Ugandan children to undergo corrective heart surgery in Bangalore, India.

They also launched a blood donation drive in the run - up to to the golden jubilee celebrations and so far 1,600 units of blood have been collected, they are also in the final stages of rolling out scholarship projects for needy Ugandan students where the association plans to sponsor 200 students in vocational studies.

"We have also been on the forefront of the jigger eradication campaign in Kamuli district and engaged in the relief efforts to help the Bududa landslide victims"

The association regularly organises a business conclave between Indian and Ugandan business houses.

"The light symbolises the victory of the good over evil, it symbolises victory of hope, victory of perseverance and a sign of prosperity in the years ahead. May this New Year bring prosperity to all of us," Chaplot said.

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