Leicester Mercury

Highlight in cultural and faith calendars


DIWALI in Leicester is recognised as one of the biggest celebratio­ns of the Festival of Light outside of India.

The annual festival in Belgrave has attracted crowds of up to 45,000 in previous years – many of whom travel from far and wide to see Belgrave Road illuminate­d by thousands of colourful lights.

The usual celebratio­ns will not go ahead this year, but to mark the occasion, we have taken a look back with a brief history of the festival.

During the 1950s and 60s, many Hindus and Sikhs settled in Leicester after leaving their homes in India and East Africa. Early settlers would have celebrated Diwali at home and with their family.

In the 1970s, the South Asian population in Leicester grew and so did the Diwali celebratio­ns.

Many people settled in Belgrave due to affordable housing and work opportunit­ies, particular­ly within the hosiery and garment manufactur­ing industry in the city. More shops in the area began to cater to the growing population and Belgrave became known as the heart of the community.

The first public Diwali lights display in Leicester was held in 1983. The illuminati­ons were switched on by the oldest resident in the South Asian community at the time.

Today, Belgrave Road is nicknamed the Golden Mile. Although the reason behind the name is debated, it is most popularly attributed to the large number of gold jewellery stores along it.

In 1977, Belgrave Neighbourh­ood Centre was set up by Leicester City Council in what was formerly a Methodist church. The building decorated in lights has become an iconic image of the Diwali celebratio­ns in the city.

Since the 1990s, Leicester’s annual celebratio­n of the Festival of Light has been nationally renowned.

As the crowds increased, road closures were introduced and each year thousands of people came to enjoy the entertainm­ent, food and fireworks.

Shops and restaurant­s along the Golden Mile remained open into the night as the crowds indulged in popular, authentic South Asian food and drinks. Fast forward to 2019, and the festival attracted about 45,000 people. The celebratio­ns are now bigger than ever, with weeks of events lined up ahead of Diwali Day.

Although this year the huge public celebratio­ns will not go ahead, Belgrave remains the heart of the celebratio­ns with many visiting to buy gifts, clothes and sweet treats.

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