WITH a burst of music, colour, stories and laughter, Oxford marked the festival of Diwali this week.

For the city’s Hindu community it represented a chance to showcase the traditions and culture of their religion as they continue their search for a permanent home.

There will be another opportunity this weekend when the One World Festival takes over Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum.

The festival’s programme brings together many diverse cultures with Chinese folklore stories mixing with Scottish herbal magic.

For Kanta Gopal, who has organised the Hindu elements of the programme, it is a chance to show off the most vibrant parts of her culture.

One of the organisers of the Oxford Hindu Temple, she will bring activities including Bollywood dancing and Krishna stories to the museum.

She said: “Story-telling is such a large part of the Hindu tradition.

“The dancing, the songs - they are all passed on from generation to generation orally.

“It is such a colourful and vibrant religion and we hope to show that to everybody.

“For us this is a way of appreciating our past while promoting a vision for the future.

“We want to encourage people to take an interest and it is about celebrating our common threads - the things that bind all of us together – that is important.

“To bring Bollywood to the Ashmolean is really special.”

It follows another successful year of the Oxford Mela – now held at the Blackbird Leys Leisure Centre.

This one-day event has now been held for nine years in a row and is inspired by fairs and gatherings in India.

Highlights of this year included tribal belly dances, 40-strong drumming workshops and ‘disco dad dancing’ in honour of the event being held on father’s day.

Oxford University’s new Kabbadi group were also present, demonstrating the latest Asian export to find popularity on these shores.

Mrs Gopal has now helped organise eight of the nine Melas and says it has grown bigger every time.

She said: “It was started to get the community together.

“We thought it would help to enrich the diverse parts of Oxfordshire life.

“It’s become a mainstream event. It started off very small and has just grown and grown.

“The aim has always been to work in regeneration areas so we’ve held it in Rose Hill and Blackbird Leys in recent years.

“It is a way to show communities about different cultures and beliefs and celebrating difference by being together in Oxford. We have different cuisines, foods – all aspects of being a Hindu. Every year we plan something new.”

The two events have grown in importance over the years due to the ongoing mission to establish a permanent base for the Hindu community in Oxford.

The lack of a temple has seen Hindus forced to move from one city venue to another, leaving the community fragmented.

High Sheriff Richard Venables has been working with the group since being sworn in in April to try and find a solution to the long-running problem.

At this year’s Mela in June, the property developer told the Oxford Times: “We are looking to have secured somewhere by mid-2020 at this stage.

“It is likely to involve finding an existing venue that is suitable.

“It is very difficult in Oxford because of the prices, we all know the challenges.

“But they are doing a lot for the local area and I think it will mean a lot more for them to have something they can call home.”

For Mrs Gopal, who has lived in Oxfordshire since 1971, the problem has really come to a head in the last decade as the Hindu community has expanded.

She said: “We meet on the second Sunday of the month as part of the Hindu Temple Project.

“It is a way for us to encourage people to come together.

“At the moment we meet at the Rose Hill Community Centre.

“We are not as nomadic as we once were but we still have to set everything up every time and pack it all away again at the end.

“We have nowhere to call our own.

“It has been this way for a long time and we don’t understand why. We are a very large community.

“It is growing and made up of a range of people.

“Some, like us, have been here a very long time now but there are more coming in as well.

“Doctors, nurses - you will meet people of the Hindu faith all over.”

One of the worse effects of being 'homeless', according to Mrs Gopal, is that many people who would usually seek advice at a temple feel they have nowhere to turn.

She said: “If members of our community need support or guidance, they have nowhere to go.

“There’s no possibility of having anywhere to go for help. We are having talks with the council and other people. Hopefully it will be sorted. It is in the early stages.”

Mrs Gopal, who was born in India and also lived in East Africa before settling in Abingdon, knows the importance of having an easily accessible, welcoming community for people who are new to Oxford.

She said: “When I came everything was so new. There was a Hindu group that used to meet so we did go to them.

“It’s been in the last 10-15 years that we really feel we need a place of our own. Without a base, events like the One World Festival and the Mela become even more important.

“They bring everyone together and show other people in Oxford our culture and what it is like.

“It’s a big part of my life and I want to share it with others.”

And she would also like to see more done to mark the big events on the Hindu calender such as Diwali.

She said: “I’ve been to the Diwali celebrations in Trafalgar Square in London and they were so amazing.

“I thought why could we see the same in Bonn Square or one of the colleges.

“We are about increasing awareness in Oxford of the Hindu culture and spreading a message of peace and mutual respect which we know Oxford supports.

“We are grateful to all the people giving up their time to come and give their support.”