Shining a light on community engagement

As the days shorten and the cold winter nights are drawing in, Hindus over the world celebrate Diwali, the Festival of Light.  For several years we have worked closely with the local Indian community to host celebrations at the Oriental Museum.

In 2019 around 350 people, including local families, international and home students, and members of staff came together to mark the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance. People enjoyed delicious Indian food prepared by local chef, a shadow puppet performance of the story of Prince Rama and Princess Sita, and art activities.

Diana Bayliss of Black Cat Theatre working her magic in the shadow puppet theatre.
Diana Bayliss of Black Cat Theatre working her magic in the shadow puppet theatre.

At the heart of the celebrations however is the Lakshmi puja – prayers to the goddess Lakshmi. As the goddess of wealth and prosperity, people hope that a Diwali visit from Lakshmi will bring them good fortune in the year ahead. In India, (though perhaps not in Durham as it is just too cold) people leave their doors and windows open and make sure lights are shining brightly in the hope that Lakshmi will enter.

Lakshmi figure at the Oriental Museum
Lakshmi figure at the Oriental Museum [Photo Credit: Kevin Scott @ Durham Oriental Museum]
The celebrations at the Oriental Museum mean different things to different people. For many Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains or those of Indian heritage it is a way to celebrate Diwali and share their faith and culture.

For others it is an opportunity to engage with something completely new. The Oriental Museum provides a space for many different people to talk, listen, learn, and generally get to know each other.

Visitors taking part in puja - traditional prayers.
Visitors taking part in Puja – traditional prayers. [Photo Credit: Kevin Scott @ Durham Oriental Museum]
The event was successful in part because of a positive relationship with the local Indian community, but also because of the enthusiasm and energy of Durham University students who volunteer their time to help us prepare and deliver the event – making 100 artificial marigold garlands is no easy task…

The celebrations at the Oriental Museum evolve every year in response to feedback we receive from visitors and our community partners and that is what makes it such an exciting and rewarding part of our programme.


Durham Library and Collections staff at the Oriental Museum run activities and workshops throughout the year for families and children, as well as exhibitions and lectures for the public and Durham Staff and Students. You can also keep up with the work across Durham University’s museums on Twitter and Facebook. If you have a passion for the collections in our care and love working with people, you can contact us about volunteering as well.

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