#1321. Diwali and the Festival of Chariots

By Ian Varkevisser | Art & Creativity

Nov 07
This week we set off equipped with the Fuji X-T30 ii an 18-135 zoom, Parr Punchy, Stu's Pastel Vibes and Manilla Chrome E-Films to explore the Hindu and Krishna celebrations of Diwali and the Festival of Chariots.

Indian South Africans are South Africans who descend from indentured labourers and free migrants who arrived from British India during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The majority live in and around the city of Durban, making it one of the largest ethnically Indian-populated cities outside of India.

I was born and raised in Durban and lived for many year around the Indian community.

Almost all South African Indians are either Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, or Christian. Known not only for their cuisine and the famous  Bunny chow, an Indian dish from Durban consisting of a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry, they bring a rich and colourful cultural diversity to the country.

Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights with its variations also celebrated in other Indian religions. It symbolises the spiritual "victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance". Diwali is celebrated during the Hindu lunisolar months of Ashvin and Kartika—between around mid-September and mid-November.

Dance in colourful costumes form part of this festival. Performers are normally also adorned with elaborate costume jewellery and body paint. It is performed by young and old alike with joy and gay abandon. Food is a major focus with families partaking in feasts and sharing. 

The Hare Krishna also celebrate with a festival of chariots. During the festival, three deities (Jagannath, his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra) are drawn by a multitude of devotees in three chariots. However due to budgetary constraints the 3 deities were drawn in 1 chariot in this case.


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  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Ok before you all kick off and ratio me based on Pascals blurb about this post – read and enjoy

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Oh yes and don’t forget to leave the cutlery behind – bare hands only 😉

      • pascaljappy says:

        Brilliant. Thank you Ian. Big big fan of Indian food here. My aunt was Indian (living in Perth, not Durban 😉 and her meals were to die for. I really miss that. Cheers.

        • Ian Varkevisser says:

          Can also be made with a mutton curry – must be half a loaf of government regulation white bread – mutton is probably the more popular traditional bunny chow in Durban.

        • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

          Ha ha – years ago, some indians from fiji came around to my place because they were apparently in the national tennis team & looking for a grass court to practice on – mine, as it turned out – but they never told me their credentials and after one of them wiped me out in the first two sets, I found out – so I gave them some orange juice for refreshments – laced with vodka, to repay them for their behaviour. The final score was 6-0, 6-0, 5-7, 4-6, 2-6. They paid me back shortly afterwards with a curry night, at their place. While their hero in the kitchen was making it and I was sitting at the table chatting to the others, a voice behind me said “oops – spilled the curry powder – oh well, I’ll just put less chilli in it”. Followed a short time later by “oops – spilled the chilli power – oh well, I guess it’ll just be a bit hotter than usual”. Even though it was a freezing cold night, half an hour later I found I’d swallowed a couple of litres of cold water trying to eat the curry, and peeled off to my Y-fronts, dripping with sweat all over the chair I was sitting in. Hottest curry I’ve EVER eaten!

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Well Ian – that blew me away – roughly half of these photos are prize winners, and you should enlarge them, frame them, and hang them around the house.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi Pete, what only one sentence !!!! never known you to be so speechless 🙂
      Thanks for the compliment though

  • Michael Fleischer says:

    Hi Ian, wonderfully vivid pictures and the movements (although it’s single photos) vibe that’s oozing out is brilliant!

  • John Wilson says:

    Ian – Wonderful post. The film effect colours work really well. We also have a large Indian population in Vancouver, especially in the Surrey/Langley area where I live (Canada has the largest expat Indian community; the Defence Minister is Indian and the leader of one of the Federal opposition parties is Indian). I’m within easy walking distance of two Indian restaurants – to the west EXCELLENT; to the east very good and I’m one quarter Indian (my maternal grandmother). Next year I’m going to have to get my 1/4 Indian butt in gear and go photograph Diwali; there’s a celebration a few minutes drive away.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Hi John, must be a pretty close call as the Indian population in South Africa is now around 1,555M. At one stage it was definitely considered the highest population of Indians outside of India. I have been following the politics in Canada recently , or should I say circus, and see you have sikh representation in the house. I guess the less said about the relations with Indian the better though. If they do not know about it over there you can perhaps introduce them to the world famous Durban bunny chow 🙂

      • John Wilson says:

        Ian – you may be right. Based on the 2021 census with a population of 37.3mil respondents we had 1.37mil ethnic Indians in the population. The gross population just hit 40mil last week, so we’re both in the 1.5mil+/- a few tens of thousands.

    • Ian Varkevisser says:

      Now that you point it out yes the E-Films do seem to work well with the skin tones of that sector of the population and their colourful dress sense.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Wonderful job capturing the vibrant colors and energy of the Diwali festival, Ian! You must have been hustling around to capture these extraordinary images from so many different perspectives – kudos!
    I’m now craving Indian food and am planning on lunch at Kathakali, an excellent restaurant only a few blocks away. I don’t think they serve Bunny Chow, though.

  • philberphoto says:

    Ah, Ian, your images convey even the noises, smells and tastes!! And you rmention of Durba, brought back the memory of some of the best curries I ever had. Kudos and congrats!!

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