Auckland Museum celebrates Diwali


Namaste. Auckland Museum is celebrating Diwali this year, in conjunction with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and their Diwali Festival.


The Auckland Diwali Festival takes its inspiration from Diwali or Deepavali (row of lamps), an important and ancient Indian festival celebrated throughout India and in Indian communities around the world.

Colloquially known as ‘The Festival of Lights’, Diwali signifies the triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and the renewal of life.
Diwali commemorates the return of Lord Rama, his wife and brother from their 14-year exile and their defeat of the 10-headed demon-king Ravana. This story is depicted in The Ramayana - one of the two great Sanskrit epics and is in poem form.

Wall hanging, Rajasthan, India, Painted cotton, Auckland Museum Collection: 46708

Villagers traditionally celebrated the return of Lord Rama by setting off fireworks and lighting diyas (clay lamps) to guide their journey back to their kingdom.

Indian families today celebrate Diwali with family and friends, dressing in traditional clothing, exchanging Indian sweets or gifts, cooking and eating together and enjoying song and dance. At night, homes are decorated with clay lamps and fireworks are set off.

Women decorate their hands or feet in henna and decorate the entrance to their homes with rangoli (decorations made from coloured powder, rice or flowers). The more religious families will start the day with prayer.

Auckland Museum has created this special page to showcase our associated collections and to talk to our Indian staff members about what Diwali means to them. We are also presented a panel discussion on Being Indian in Aotearoa on Sunday 8 November. 

Ganga, personification of the Ganges river, India, AWMM 1929.182

Jignasha Patel

Director, Enterprise, Finance & Transformation

Namste, Kia Ora

As a Fiji-born Indian Kiwi, it has always seemed that I was truly a product of three amazing cultures. My Fiji Indian heritage has melded seamlessly into my New Zealand life and these together have shaped me into who I am today. 

Auckland has been home for the larger part of my life and I am proud that over the years, we continue to embrace the diversity of Aucklanders. I believe that we have also come to terms with our roles in creating a rich tapestry of culture where threads are interwoven, but still maintain distinct.

Like many of us who trace our heritage beyond the shores of Aotearoa, I have sought to incorporate my cultural heritage within today’s modern life.  This may show up as wearing saris for events, whether they are Museum functions or other professional events or helping in celebrating Diwali at the Museum.

Food, language and my faith are my key everyday connectors and not surprisingly these along with music, dance and fashion feature strongly in all our Diwali celebrations.

Diwali is the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals and it also marks the start of the Hindu New Year. Diwali represents the significance of the victory of good over evil. It begins with each Diwali, and the lights that illuminate our homes and hearts reinforce this simple concept of light overcoming darkness.

For me, Diwali is a celebration of life, its enjoyment, and a sense of goodness and growth – to move beyond the past with hope and excitement.

Hinduism, as a faith, is very accepting of other’s differences, and I feel that the Museum holds similar values – we embrace the richness of those who call Tāmaki Makaurau home. Our house on the hill is a house for everyone. We hope that all Aucklanders see themselves reflected here, not just in the objects in our collection, but in the faces of our staff, the visitors we welcome and in our shared experiences.

Staff kōrero

We asked some Musuem staff members the same question being posed to the members of our panel – what is it like being Indian in Aotearoa? 

Print out and colour our Rangoli design

Print out and colour our Rangoli design

Rangoli is a traditional Indian art, usually created on the floor using coloured powders, such as rice, quartz, flour and sand. Rangoli is generally created during festivals or auspicious occasions, and it is common to see during Diwali. These designs are a reflection of traditions and folklore and some designs are passed down through generations. Rangoli are seen as good luck and are representations of strength and generosity. 

You can print out our Rangoli design to colour-in at home, or come in to Weird and Wonderful at the Museum, choose a design and colour it in, then cut it out and add it to our beautiful Diwali display in the gallery.

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Soldier Singh

Soldier Singh

Jagt Singh was born in Punjab and migrated to New Zealand in 1913, later serving in World War I as a trooper with the New Zealand Mounted Rifles. Though he and many other Indian soldiers were willing to serve, they were initially denied the opportunity. You can learn more about the Indian soldiers who fought for New Zealand here, or read more about Jagt Singh's story.

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Being Indian in Aotearoa: a panel discussion

Being Indian in Aotearoa: a panel discussion

What does it mean to be Indian in Aotearoa? How do our Indian Aucklanders cope with having a foot in both worlds? We held an evening of kōrero in partnership between Auckland Museum and Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development. We heard from members of Auckland's Indian community as they explored prejudice and preconceptions, as well as the joys, of their unique identity.

Image: Painting on cloth, Odisha, India; AWMM 46717