As Diwali celebrations across the UK have been stripped back due to the coronavirus pandemic, we ask pharmacists and pharmacy leaders what their hopes and aspirations are over the year ahead…

The lore of Diwali is rooted in the victory of good over evil. Streets, homes, offices and businesses are illuminated with light – a metaphor for knowledge and spiritual consciousness.

The five-day celebrations reach their peak on the third day, Diwali, which falls on the darkest day of the Hindu lunar month of Kartik. Hence the idea of lighting the little clay lamps called diyas – which also stand for purity, goodness, luck and power – to dispel the darkness.

It is a boisterous festival marked by a fusillade of fireworks which are ignited to announce the triumph over evil by making a barrage of loud noises that will wake the attention of the gods.

“Diwali is also a time when families get together, to be ‘up close and personal’ and to celebrate in a very tactile and community-led way,” says Bharat Shah CBE, chairman of Sigma Pharmaceuticals an avid believer.

“All that will be forfeited this year and the future predictions don’t look too favourable for communities getting together,” he says, as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic takes hold in different parts of the country.

Bharat Shah CBE

Diwali is also a time for many devotees to visit their temples and places of worship. But this year, Shah says, “there will be no let up, as the government tightens its measures to stem the spread of this terrible curse that is upon our world.

“This is the time of almost a ‘World War III’ but with the infrastructure intact, he said. “As a company, we walk around like masked crusaders trying to avoid personal contact with each other, whilst maintaining the all-important work of trying to keep not only the nation in good health but serving our customers who have also very tirelessly given their service selflessly to our nation by keeping the flow of vital medicines to the point of need.”

From a pharmacy point of view, Shah is grateful to those fighting the sector’s corner at a very difficult time. “We are thankful to Matt Hancock, Jo Churchill and former pharmacy minister Steve Brine who have all been real champions for community pharmacy and continue to sound the ‘pharmacy trumpet’ in the halls of power, sounding out for our sector and drawing attention to what more pharmacy can deliver in these troubled times.

“We salute them all!” he says, lavishing praise on “the real heroes” in retail, hospitals, the ambulance service and the NHS who have all performed over and above their call of duty. “May the blessings of the Almighty be upon them at this time of the ‘festival of lights’!”

Diwali 2020 is set to be very different as most major celebrations have had to be cancelled across the UK. Leicester hosts some of the best in country and one of the biggest festivals outside of India.

Up to 40,000 people attended the celebrations on the arterial Belgrave Road last year to witness the annual switching on of the illuminations and to share in the community spirit. The city council has said this Diwali there will be no such gathering on the road for traditional entertainment and fireworks, but a virtual celebration instead which people can join from the safety of their homes.

“Members of the public can send in their personal video message, which could feature in an hour-long package of entertainment that will be streamed on the Visit Leicester website on Diwali Day,” the council has announced.

Yet despite the obvious disappointment, the festival this year is set to be more important than ever, according to a Leicester local and chairman of Morningside Pharmaceuticals Dr Nik Kotecha OBE.

Dr Nik Kotecha

He says: “This year’s Diwali will be very different to the festivities which those who celebrate are used to. Many social gatherings and public celebrations are not possible. Two important values of Diwali are togetherness and kindness, which have never been more important for everyone working in our sector.

“At Morningside we celebrate all religious festivals that are important to our colleagues, so the way we mark Diwali and other significant occasions will be very different for our people too. Our celebrations will be limited because of the restrictions, but we will ensure that the values and ethos of Diwali and other festivals are very much in place to support our people, customers and partners through these challenging times.”

This year Diwali Day falls on Saturday, November 14 in the United Kingdom, although for many Hindus and Sikhs the festival begins several days beforehand. In the lead up to Diwali those celebrating the festival, clean, renovate and decorate their homes and offices, while they illuminate the interior and exterior of their homes with diyas.

The tradition continues because Hindus believe that goddess Lakshmi visits only those homes that are clean and well-lit. Some people even leave their doors and windows ajar to symbolically welcome the goddess in.

Prayers are offered to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Prosperity, before fireworks are lit, a family feast takes place and gifts are shared.

Dr Kotecha added: “Diwali is a festival that is close to my heart and many of the values align with our business’ mission, which is ‘to make quality healthcare an affordable and accessible reality throughout the world’.

For businesses like Sigma and Morningside as well as thousands of independent pharmacies across the UK, it is also the time to open new accounts books as Diwali for many marks the start of the new Hindu financial year which falls on the fourth day of the five-day celebrations.

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