British Asia News Network
London: Diwali is the festival of lights that brings people together. Nowhere was it more evident than at the Diwali celebrations by the Armed Forces Hindu Network at the RAF Northolt Officers mess on the 21st November.
The prestigious event started with a short prayer by the Hindu Chaplin Acharya Kishan Kant Attri MBE, to bless everyone present with health, wealth prosperity, and happiness. Giving the message of Diwali, Mr Attri said the inclusive Hindu festival is celebrated to rejoice the victory of good over evil - the homecoming of Lord Ram and Sita after 14 years of exile. This day is marked by the lighting of the lamp, to bring wealth and success, showing the path of truth and knowledge.
Kishan Kant conducted a short service to echo the feeling for those gathered to "give people the right direction… lead us from truth to truth, from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge."
Squadron Leader Thomas Howell welcomed the guests on Diwali and briefly shared the history of the RAF Northolt - the oldest operational airfield in the Royal Airforce that started in 1915.
“Today RAF Northolt is home to 36 units… it is fitting that we celebrate Diwali with you here this evening. The contributions of multi-faith communities in defence cannot be understated and must never be forgotten,” he said.
“Millions of men and women, sailors, soldiers and airmen continue to fight British and allied forces all over the world. Many giving the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we value today.”
“There are over 3000 Hindus in the Royal Armed Forces and we are looking forward to celebrate the festival of lights – Diwali with you.”
This is the fourth year of the festivities and like every year, the Jalaram Mandir helped with the celebrations. The mandir prepared the meals for the event, put up Hindu decorations and provided their selfless service towards celebrating Diwali at the unit.
Rajni Davda, the Vice President of the Jalaram mandir thanked the Armed forces for giving them the opportunity to be a part of the event, “On behalf of the Board of Trustees and my team, I just want to say thank you again and we are happy to celebrate Diwali with all here.”
This year’s Diwali gathering has a guest from the Indian Air Force. Air Commodore Anil Sabharwal VSM Indian Air Force gave an inspiring speech, showing his gratitude for UK’s recognition of its Indian-origin Armed forces.
“I bring best wishes on behalf of the Indian High Commission, Indian Air Force, Indian Army and Indian Navy. Thank you for making me feel so welcome. I will take back memories and lots of photographs that I will be sharing with Indian Armed Forces back home and tell them how you are being very well taken care of and live like one family,” he said.
“I am absolutely amazed to be standing at an airport station in Northolt in the company of very distinguished senior RAF officers and wonderful community members who are making India come alive in London,” he said.
“Diwali marks the victory of good over evil – that’s the motto of any armed forces. We are here to protect the rule of law. Our duty is to ensure good survives over evil,” said Air Commodore Sabharwal.
Diwali is celebrated by both Hindus and Sikh communities, with nearly 0.5 million people of the Sikh community living in the UK that have been a part of the Armed forces.
Professor Mohinder Paul Singh Bedi spoke briefly about Diwali and said “we will soon be celebrating Guru Nanak’s birthday, the founder of the Sikh community and then Christmas. We are a multi-racial, multi-cultural society and we are proud to be British. We are all children of one God.”
The Vice Chair of the Armed Forces of Hindu Network, Corporal Shameer Mehta welcomed everyone on behalf of the Chair, Lft Col Rao, Our Chairman and made a short presentation about the Hindu Network.
Speaking about the importance of the day spanning across the Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhist and Jain faiths. “For Sikhs this day marks the return of Guru Hargovind ji from prison to Amritsar, for Jains this is the day when Mahavir attained Moksha. For Buddhists, this is the day when king Ashoka embraced Buddhism,” he said.
He explained why Diwali is called the festival of lights – with people lighting up their homes before dusk. “The flame of the lamp always burns upwards. Similarly, we should attain knowledge that leads us to higher ideals.”
He shared the story of the network’s inception when Acharya Krisha Nath, the first Hindu Chaplain was appointed by the Home Secretary alongside two Muslim, one Jewish and one Sikh Chaplin. As the Armed Forces became more diverse, the work of the Acharya became critical and they soon tied up with local networks to make significant impact on the forces.
Women leaders took the centre stage to light the lamps and do the arti. They also took the podium to talk about women power “nari shakti” that is worshipped on the day through the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi.
The first women President of the Hindu Forum of Britain, Truptiben Patel said “Let us celebrate Diwali and make sure we encourage lot more women and girls in our community to come forward… women are the driving force for men. They are the power that keeps the universal energy and the whole spectrum of education, wealth and health going.
Varsha Mistry of the Met Police surprised Warrant Officer Ashok Kumar Chauhan by presenting him with a certificate of appreciation. She thanked the Armed Forces for supporting the Met Police and praised the events “that brings home stories of our modern-day Ram globally… the armed forces have come to support us in anti-terrorism drives … and we are really glad to stand shoulder to shoulder with you and glad to be here today.”
Virendra Sharma, MP came to the event straight after landing at the London airport from Africa. He said that it was a pleasure that we are celebrating Diwali as one of the main dates in the British calendar. “Right from the top in the Prime Minister’s office to local levels, we recognise the contributions of all the community living in Britain… I look forward to working with you so we can bring peace and prosperity to all.”
The event was brought to life by dance performances by Krishna Mistry and Gita Mistry. The hall resonated with some powerful singing by Channi Singh. The vegetarian food, cooked by volunteers at the Jalaram mandir was delicious – truly representing Indian cuisine, culture, inclusion and hospitality in one memorable evening.