I begin by greeting everyone in the languages of the realm of New Zealand, in English, Māori, Cook Island Māori, Niuean, Tokelauan and New Zealand Sign Language. Greetings, Kia Ora, Kia Orana, Fakalofa Lahi Atu, Taloha Ni and as it is the afternoon (Sign)
I then specifically greet you: Hon Pansy Wong, Minister of Ethnic Affairs; Hon Phil Goff, Leader of the Opposition; Members of Parliament, Nikki Kaye, Dr Rajen Prasad, Hon David Cunliffe; Carol Beaumont, Jacinda Ardern and Dr Jackie Blue; Your Excellency Admiral (Rtd) Sureesh Metha, High Commissioner for India to New Zealand; Cr Greg Moyle, representing Len Brown, the Mayor-designate of Auckland; Hon Philip Burdon and Dr Richard Grant, Chairman and Executive Director respectively of the Asia New Zealand Foundation; Distinguished Guests otherwise; Ladies and Gentlemen, Girls and Boys. And in the context of this gathering may I add the greetings: Namaste, Namashkar, Sat Sri Akal, Kam Cho.
It has been a delight for my wife Susan and I to accept the invitation to attend the opening of this year’s Diwali celebrations in Auckland, an event now part of the civic landscape of this city. As people who grew up in Auckland and never really left here, it is great to see so many friends and familiar faces.
I have been given the privilege to officially open these celebrations by lighting a lamp, and just before doing so later in the proceedings, I would like to say a little about the significance of Diwali for us in New Zealand.
So why should we mark Diwali here, given that New Zealand is more than 10,000 km from India where the Festival of Lights has been marked for many more than a thousand years? There are several reasons.
The first is that Diwali points to New Zealand’s growing cultural, religious and ethnic diversity.
In 2006 the census found that nearly a quarter of New Zealanders were born overseas. A century ago, most overseas-born New Zealanders would have hailed from Britain or Ireland, which has historically been the major source of migrants to this country. In 2006, that figure—of people from Britain or Ireland had dropped to 28.6 percent—exactly the same proportion as those New Zealanders born in Asia.
Inherent within that diversity are both challenges and opportunities and as we address those issues it is paramount that we should recognise the universal values of justice, tolerance and respect for others.
Secondly, within that diversity, Diwali is also a particularly special time for New Zealanders of Indian origin. Of course, Diwali has specific religious meanings for Hindus and other religions about the triumph of truth over evil.
But for all members of the Indian Diaspora, it symbolises the best traditions of Indian culture and history and a connection to the land of their ancestors. That heritage can be seen here today in the various dances of the Indian sub-continent being performed and the variety of Indian crafts, art and food on display.
Thirdly, Diwali speaks of the long established links between New Zealand and India—connections that was so apparent at the recent Commonwealth Games in Delhi where Susan and I had the honour of representing the government by attendance in support of the New Zealand team.
That linkage was attested to by the New Zealand team wearing over their black blazers as they paraded an angavetram or scarf with a quotation of Sir Edmund Hillary at one end saying “It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves!” and a quotation of Tensing Norgay, the co-conqueror of Everest at the other saying “Be great, make others great!” This was a connection very warmly remarked upon in media coverage of the opening.
Fourthly, like Easter and Christmas, Chinese New Year, and Eid-ul-fitr, as a festival that speaks of bringing light to darkness, Diwali sends a powerful message of peace. It urges people of all faiths, denominations and cultures to reach out across the divisions that separate us, one from another, to seek greater understanding.
Finally, like the festivals I have just mentioned, Diwali is a time to celebrate life and to look forward to the coming year with a renewed sense of passion and purpose. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, the Festival of Lights is a reminder and an opportunity to "Be the change we want to see in our world!"
And on that note, I will close in New Zealand’s first language Māori, by offering everyone greetings and wishing you all good health and fortitude in your endeavours. No reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, kia ora, kia kaha, tēnā koutou katoa.