Where To Visit In Leicester For Diwali
The East Midlands city of Leicester was shot into the global spotlight a year and a half ago when its football club, Leicester City, astounded the sporting world by winning the Premier League. But this multicultural hub is famed for much more than football glory. It’s also known for its vibrant multicultural life, and this month the spotlight shines on its world-famous Diwali – the Hindu festival of lights – bringing with it a dazzling array of entertainment.
The festival has grown immensely here over the years, ever since Indian migrants made Leicester their home in the 1960s. It’s now a colossal event – the largest celebration of Diwali outside of India – and takes up an entire two weeks (8-22 Oct), which end with a bang. Everyone is invited to join the party, and to enjoy a busy programme of cultural events, including traditional musical performances, Bollywood dancing, and a spectacular fireworks show which lights up the night sky.
Light Over Darkness
The ancient festival of Diwali is celebrated by millions of people around the world, and coincides with Hindu New Year – it’s also observed by Sikhs and Jains. The predominant theme is the triumph of light over darkness, and good over evil. Many Hindus also commemorate the legend of Lord Rama and his wife Sita, who returned to North India from exile during the 15th century BC. Known as a festival of lights, those celebrating the occasion often decorate their homes with a joyful collection of candles, clay oil lamps and strings of lights and, especially in India, swirling patterns on the ground created from coloured rice.
The festivities here focus on the jaw-dropping illuminations on Belgrave Road, part of Leicester’s ‘Golden Mile’, which is also at the heart of the Asian community. Here, 35,000 people of all faiths gather for the lights Switch On (8 Oct; 7.30pm) and a dramatic firework show.
Earlier in the day Diwali Village, in Cossington Street Recreation Ground, opens at 4pm; crowds head to this fun-filled site with fairground rides including a giant Ferris wheel, Bollywood music, Asian food stalls and dazzling dance shows.
Even larger crowds are expected on Diwali Day (19 Oct), which also sees a spectacular aerial firework display, illuminations and stage performances at Diwali Village (from 6pm).
This vibrant city has so much to offer visitors, whatever the time of year. The Golden Mile (Belgrave Road and Melton Road) is so-called because of its huge collection of Indian jewellery shops – the largest number outside India – plus glittering sari houses with swathes of colourful silks and embroidered fabrics for traditional South Asian attire. The neighbourhood is also known for its many restaurants that serve up Indo-Chinese specialities, curries and traditional sugar-laden sweets.
A highlight at New Walk Museum and Art Gallery this month is the exhibition Splendours of the Subcontinent: A Prince’s Tour of India 1875-6 (to 29 Oct). It displays some of the finest Indian treasures from the Royal Collection, relating to the four-month tour of the Indian subcontinent made by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII). On display are works of art and exquisite gifts presented to the prince by leaders and royals.
To learn more about Hindu culture, visit the spectacular temple BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir, built in 2011 by skilled craftsmen brought from India. Its intricate, hand-carved towers, pillars and decorative motifs in milky-white limestone are a real work of art, and typical of North Indian temple architecture. It holds spiritual and community activities year-round and is busy during festivals – especially Diwali.
Leicester hit the headlines in 2012, when the centuries old remains of King Richard III were unearthed in an unglamorous council car park, igniting an interest in the city’s history. There’s now a King Richard III Visitor Centre, with exhibits telling the astonishing story about how archaeologists made their discovery, plus an interactive DNA display. The centre was built close to the spot where the monarch lay undiscovered for more than five centuries, and is also near Leicester Cathedral where he is now buried.
From royal history to a futuristic world, head to the award-winning National Space Centre, boasting six interactive galleries and the UK’s largest planetarium. The 42m-high, semi-transparent Rocket Tower is home to two rockets – the Gagarin Experience and real Moon rock – while at the Into Space exhibit, you can take a tour and can come face-to-face with astronauts and spacesuits – enough to satisfy any interstellar imagination.
For those keen for a taste of sporting glory, tours of the home of Leicester FC, the King Power Stadium, take place on most weekends. Visit the players’ tunnel, changing rooms, press room and media suite. Even though the football team hasn’t yet repeated its glory of the 2015-16 season, and its ex-manager Claudio Ranieri is but a distant memory, you can get a feel of what their amazing achievement meant to the people of Leicester. www.visitleicester.info