From the 1960s when Indian immigrants celebrated Diwali with some trepidation, the festival of lights has come a long way in the city of Leicester in the east Midlands – this year a Diwali Village is being set up as part of the busiest ever calendar of events so far.
Leicester is reputed to host the largest Diwali celebrations outside India, attracting over 40,000 people for the lights switch-on ceremony that sparks off the celebrations. The events of dance, music, theatre and exhibitions over two weeks are attended by nearly 100,000 people.
A unique event this year is the Story of Diwali in Leicester exhibition, which details the festival’s origins in the town in the 1960s and explores why Leicester has this festival and the people, organisations and events that made it happen.
Local people have shared their memories and photographs to create a unique record of how Leicester’s Diwali has been celebrated through the decades.
Leicester, a poster city of Britain’s multiculturalism, is officially twinned with the Gujarat city of Rajkot.
What’s new for 2016 is the addition of the Diwali Village on Cossington Street Recreation Ground, which will feature children’s fun-fair rides, entertainment (including Bollywood music) and a wide range of stalls, including food, organisers said.
Belgrave Road – called “Little India” and the “Golden Mile” due to the number of jewellery shops there – is lined with specially installed lights and is the centre of Diwali celebrations. A giant Ferris Wheel is being put in place to enable views from a height of over 110 feet.
Leicester’s assistant city mayor for culture, leisure and sport, Piara Singh Clair, said: “The big wheel was extremely popular when we introduced it for the first time last year, so I’m delighted that it’s coming back”.
“It’s a great way to see Leicester from above, and to gaze down on the spectacular Diwali celebrations taking place on the Golden Mile”.
For the first time, the Diwali lights switch-on event on October 16 will also feature two displays: Ocean of Light which will include an evocative outdoor installation featuring thousands of lights suspended in space, and Colours of Radiance, a dazzling light show using LED umbrellas to create moving “rangoli” patterns.
In the early 1970s, the Leicester City Council officially advised Indians expelled by Idi Amin’s Uganda not to come to the town, but thousands moved there. The council has since embraced multiculturalism and keenly supports Diwali celebrations.
Over the years, the Indian community in Leicester has revived and enriched the local economy, and individuals have held leading positions across Britain, including in the arts, music, films and politics.