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INDIA

Where to celebrate Diwali in Switzerland

Diwali is the five-day festival of lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world. Here’s your guide to where festival events will take place across Switzerland.

Where to celebrate Diwali in Switzerland
Image: Rajesh JANTILAL / AFP

Diwali is the name given to the five-day long festival of lights celebrated in autumn in India, and by Hindus, Sikhs, and some Buddhists around the world. 

In 2019, Diwali Day, the final day of the celebration, falls on Sunday, October 27th. The celebrations however take place throughout October, with some happening well into November. 

It takes its name from the clay lamps or deepa (the event is sometimes called Deepawali) that many Indians light outside their home. 

With the days shortening in Switzerland, there's all the more reason to celebrate light, and for the country's Indian community in particular.

According to the Indian Embassy in Bern, there are 24,567 Indians in Switzerland, including around 1,000 Indian students. 

Switzerland’s Indian community is concentrated in the country’s big cities of Zurich, Geneva, Basel, Baden, Bern and Lausanne. 

How do Indians celebrate Diwali?

As reported by The Local Germany, there are a number of diverse ways in which Indians will celebrate Diwali. 

Exactly what is celebrated differs in different parts of India; for example, many northern Indians use the day to mark the return of King Rama to Ayodhya after defeating demon king Ravana, while in southern India it marks the defeat of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna.

READ: For Indians, the silence in Switzerland can be deafening

The festival lasts five days, with specific rituals and activities assigned to each day. They begin with cleaning your house on the first day and decorating it, usually with clay lamps and patterns of coloured sand, on the second. 

The third day is when families meet for prayer and food, and the fourth day is seen as the start of the new year, with friends and relatives visiting each other with gifts.

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Image: Rajesh JANTILAL / AFP

On the fifth and final day, it's traditional for brothers to visit their married sisters and for the sisters' family to welcome them with a meal.

Food is a major part of the celebrations, which originated as a way of marking the year's last harvest before winter.

Bern

The Indian Association of Bern is holding its annual Diwali celebration on November 2nd in Bern’s Bürenpark.

The celebrations are set to include music, lights, cultural events, an Indian buffet dinner and prizes. 

Zurich

In Zurich, the Indian Association of Greater Zurich has planned an event for Sunday, November 10th at the Stadthalle Dietikon.

The event will include dancing and other performances, Indian cuisine and opportunities to network. More information is available here

Geneva

The Indian Association of Geneva is holding their Diwali celebrations on the 16th of November, which feature musical performances and dinner

Showing the reach and influence of Diwali across the world, the Malaysian Association of Geneva will also be holding a Diwali celebration, to take place on October 26th. 

Aargau

In the town of Frick, Aargau, cultural organisation Padmapada is holding a Lichterfest (festival of lights) on Friday, October 25th. 

Not far away in the town of Wettingen, Aargau, the Indian Association Wettingen will hold Diwali celebrations on the 10th of November, with tickets available here

Basel

Kalasri, an Indian art and culture organisation based in northern Switzerland, will hold a Diwali event on the 2nd of November.

The event will showcase a variety of diverse Indian dance styles, followed by a meet and greet with Indian snacks. 

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INDIA

‘For Indians, the silence in Switzerland can be deafening’

When Ashley Arthingal left India for the very first time to study in Lausanne for a year, he felt like a visitor from another planet. Here he reveals what has surprised him most about his time as an international student in Switzerland.

'For Indians, the silence in Switzerland can be deafening'
Ashley Arthingal with the family of his Swiss friend Robin Fasel (left). Photo: Author supplied.

Don’t talk to strangers – unless they’re Swiss!

Indian parents have a unique way of raising their kids which includes making us perform customary dance routines for visiting guests or stuffing a spoonful of sweet yoghurt in our mouths on exam days for good luck.

But there is one unwritten rule that every Asian kid has to obey: ‘Don't talk to strangers’.

For me, it took a while to hesitantly respond to every “Bonjour, Ça va ? Bonne Journée!” (“Hello. How are you? Have a good day!”) hurled at me by almost every random stranger on the street in Switzerland.

In fact, the first time someone greeted me with the customary “Ça va?” and a wide smile as I was walking back home after 11pm in Lausanne, I looked up and down the street to see if I was in some lonely street or sketchy neighbourhood.

I found it difficult to comprehend why this burly Swiss guy wanted to have a conversation with me. If it was India and some stranger enquired about your well-being on the street, it would either mean he was trying to sell you some Ponzi scheme or he wanted to rob you of every last penny. Plus, if you tried greeting everyone in the crowded, hot streets of Mumbai, where almost 22 million people reside, you would lose your voice by the end of the day.

Why did the Indian cross the road?

Any Indian will tell you that, more than any ‘Breathtaking Swiss Sights’ as listed by TripAdvisor or any of those renowned travel websites, the most alluring sight in Switzerland is the adherence to traffic rules.

The first time I walked on a Swiss footpath (that much-coveted space us Indians associate with dwelling places for hawkers selling all sorts of fast food, gadgets and livestock), I marvelled at the beauty of the rare and exotic phenomena described as ‘lane discipline’ and also learned that vehicles can be driven on the road without honking.

Traffic Swiss-style.

While I was gazing in wonderment at this new way of life, a sleek Lamborghini Gallardo stopped just before me. When the cool looking driver smiled and motioned to me to cross the road, I realised that I was standing on the edge of a zebra crossing. The smile that the driver gave me as he allowed me to move along at my own sweet pace was all the welcome I needed. After all, I come from a continent where crossing the road amid moving traffic is considered a ‘skill’.

Hello, Silence, my new friend

At the top of the list of ‘Unusual things that make you miss home’ for Indians in Switzerland would definitely be noise.  

In India, there is always noise, whether its machines whirring, neighbours yelling , babies crying, vehicles honking, dogs barking, political victory parades or religious ceremonies (and that’s just on Tuesday at 10pm). Sound is synonymous with sleep in a crowded city like Mumbai.

Diwali festival celebrations in Mumbai in November. Photo: AFP

In Switzerland, though, the silence is deafening. It took me a while to sleep through the silence and not get startled and run to my balcony to see what was happening whenever I heard the mere sound of my neighbours walking and conversing with each other.

Livin’ – with- a- Locaaaaa

It was a bit of a mental challenge when I had to prepare myself to live with a German roommate that I had never met in my entire life (barring a few WhatsApp conversations).

It felt like more of a challenge as I had never lived with anyone apart my parents and my wife. However, from the day my housemate Lavinia Jonietz arrived it felt like a whole amount of crazy town, from making German dishes to laughing till we snorted, to brushing off blond hair stuck on my socks.

Ashley with his German roommate Lavinia. 

The education in using a dishwasher and a washing machine, separating garbage for recycling, vacuuming the right way and living life in an organized manner shall be with me the rest of my life. In a similar manner, my roommate's horror and shock at seeing me eat with my hands, and her trying my spicy food and yelling bloody murder, will stay with her.

Becoming Swiss

You realise you’ve turned Swiss when you rush outdoors when the sun is out and say things like “Ahh, it’s 8C, it’s a warm day today”.

Back in Mumbai, people start wearing bomber jackets and warm clothes when the temperature goes south of 20C.

Also, you realise you’ve become way too Swiss when you see a train where all the seats are full and there are few people standing and you mutter “Damn, its too crowded” and your Swiss friend and German roomie look at you quizzically and reply: “You’re saying that?!”

Commuters at a suburban train station in Mumbai. File photo: AFP

Get, set….Raclette!

My first weekend with a Swiss family, which happened thanks to my classmate and friend Robin Fasel, was really a fascinating one .

My initial scepticism vanished when I was treated to such warm Swiss hospitality and the equally warm and fascinating Swiss cheese dish known as raclette.

The weekend in Fribourg thought me many things: not all Swiss are on time, not all Swiss like cheese and, most importantly, family values and respect are universal and transcend race, language and nationality. The experience had me smiling throughout my journey back to Lausanne without me even saying cheese.

Ashley (back row, just left of centre) and fellow students try their hand at curling. 

Ashley Arthingal is currently studying for a Master of Advanced Studies in Sport Administration and Technology at the International Academy of Sport Science and Technology (AISTS) in Lausanne. The program is open to 35 students around the world every year.