LEICESTER is getting ready to celebrate the festival of Diwali – and it all starts next Sunday (24 October).
After 2020’s virtual celebrations, the city council will take the festivities back on to the streets of Belgrave this year, but with a new approach that will reduce the need for people to congregate in one place at the same time.
In a change to previous years, the stage usually sited near the Belgrave roundabout will be replaced with a giant screen. A second giant screen will go up near Belgrave Road’s junction with Wand Street, with a third screen installed on Cossington Street recreation ground.
Each of the three screens will show a pre-recorded, cultural programme that will run three times throughout the evening – starting at 5.30pm on Sunday 24 October.
Recorded at Leicester’s Curve theatre, the programme will include a religious ceremony performed by the Hindu Festival Council as well as entertainment from Nupur Arts, the Centre for Indian Classical Dance, and the Shiamak UK dancers, working in partnership with Aakash Odedra.
There will also be music from other local artists.
A pre-recorded countdown – shown on all three screens – will herald the switch-on of Leicester’s famous Diwali lights at 6.30pm on Sunday 24 October.
This year, the usual firework display will be replaced with a beautiful Fire Garden, lighting up Cossington Street recreation ground with hundreds of real candles and a dramatic flaming centrepiece.
Visitors should also look out for a trio of fire performers from Helter Skelter Arts – and two giant puppets representing the Hindu god Hanuman and the demon king Ravana, engaged in the battle between good and evil.
Cossington Street recreation ground will host a Diwali Village featuring food stalls and funfair rides from 3pm-9pm, while the spectacular Wheel of Light makes a welcome return to Belgrave Road – taking visitors for a spin from Friday 22 October until Sunday 7 November.
Shops and restaurants along the Golden Mile will be ready to welcome visitors too – and this year there will be an added incentive for shoppers.
A bumper package of £2,000-worth of prizes is up for grabs in a competition that’s part of a campaign to help the businesses in Belgrave bounce back from the pandemic.
Supported by funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Diwali Big Shop campaign will promote the attractions of the Golden Mile during the Diwali celebrations – and give shoppers the chance to win some great prizes.
Deputy city mayor for culture Cllr Piara Singh Clair said: “We were determined to do all we could to bring the Diwali celebrations back to the streets of Leicester this year, while making public safety our priority, so I’m delighted that we’ve been able to do so.
“The new format of the event, using the three giant screens, means that people won’t need to congregate in the same space at the same time, as they have in previous years.
“By running the programme three times, we hope we can encourage people to join the celebrations at different times throughout the evening, without missing out on any of the fun.
“It should be a fantastic evening and I’d like to wish everyone a very happy Diwali!”
Belgrave Road will close to traffic at 5pm on Sunday 24 October for what will be the first of Leicester’s two Diwali celebrations.
Diwali Day festivities on Thursday 4 November will also start with the closure of Belgrave Road at 5pm, followed by the showing of the cultural programme on the big screens at 5.30pm, 6.30pm and 7.30pm.
The Fire Garden and Diwali Village will both return for Diwali Day, while a colourful Global Rainbow will light up the night sky above Cossington Street recreation ground until Friday 5 November.
Leicester's Diwali celebrations are generously supported by the University of Leicester.
Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: "We’re hugely proud to sponsor this year's Diwali celebrations as we mark the University’s Centenary year.
“The diversity of culture in our city has been a part of the University’s story from the very beginning and, knowing the importance of the vast Diwali celebrations to the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, this is another opportunity for us to give thanks to the people who have supported our institution in its first 100 years.
“We look forward to joining the festivities at what promises to once again be an auspicious occasion.”
More information about Diwali in Leicester, and about the Diwali Big Shop competition, can be found at visitleicester.info/Diwali
The history of Leicester’s Diwali celebrations is outlined on the city council’s Story of Leicester website.