"Diwali is all about sparkle," says Krishna Sharma who celebrates the festival of lights with the same rituals he's been following in India. Krishna takes special pride in the fact that his better half, Shyama, creates artistic rangoli, (decorative floral art with petals, flour and coloured powder at the entrance of a home) lights oil lamps and prepares home-made Diwali sweets.
For the Sharmas, the preparations for Diwali started with spring cleaning and stocking up the pantry with ingredients that go in to creating the finest Indian sweets and savouries. Every year they religiously shop for silver coins to gift along with the boxes of goodies to their close family and friends. The silver coins signify health, wealth and prosperity.
"We treat our guests like God. Hospitality is the mainstay of Diwali," says Krishna, talking about the Indian custom of welcoming people home and feeding them up.
"In New Zealand we tend to celebrate Diwali over the weekend and spend all our time visiting friends, except on the day we pray to Laxmi, the Goddess of Wealth."
While celebrations have already been held around the country, today is Diwali. During one of today's celebrations - Laxmi Poojan - it's believed that the Goddess of Wealth gets attracted by the flame of decorative oil lamps and twinkling fairly lights that roll out a warm welcome. The entire family will wake-up before sunrise, shower and pray. This is followed by the ritual of washing the family jewellery and heirlooms in milk and honey. According to popular belief, Hindus do not step out of their homes because it could deter the Goddess of Wealth from entering.
Krishna dutifully follows the rituals in the hope that his 12-year-old son Abhishek will not lose touch with his culture and background.
For Vinod Mistry, director Surti Indian Samosa, Diwali is quintessentially about throwing light on the inner self. Vinod is happy that there are so many initiatives by the Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED), like the 'light up your home' competition and a restaurant vegetarian food challenge being organised to celebrate the biggest Hindu festival.
Rina Tagore, a keen observer of the social and cultural landscape of the city is delighted that Diwali is celebrated as a big public event in Auckland.
"The opportunity to experience the lights, the colour, and the buzz, the display of popular and traditional culture shows the growing diaspora of the sub-continent in Auckland," observes Rina who believes that the support from the local government for the events speaks of the value placed on community wellbeing.
In comparison to other OECD countries, New Zealanders are far more open to ethnic and religious diversity according to Mervin Singham, director at the Office of Ethnic Affairs
"It may have something to do with the growing relationship between India and New Zealand, particularly in the areas of tourism, education and trade. Our inclusive society is the envy of many and a true example of how New Zealand can be a leader in developing peaceful co-existence of people from all ethnic backgrounds," he says.
"Traditionally, Diwali is a festival of peace, harmony, brotherhood - the need for which is particularly relevant in today's world marred by violence and acts of terrorism," says Avanindra Kumar Pandey, High Commissioner of India, New Zealand.
"Diwali offers an opportunity not only to celebrate but also to strengthen the bonds of friendship between all communities in New Zealand, as also between the two countries."By Farida Master