The holiday of Diwali is starting to light up mainstream America. Diwali, a festival of lights celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and others in India and other countries, has long been observed in immigrant communities around the US. But now public celebrations of the holiday are starting to pop up in places ranging from Disneyland and Times Square to parks and museums.
The Times Square event is the brainchild of Neeta Bhasin, who says that while many Indian immigrants have found great success in the U.S., ”still people don’t know much about India. I felt it’s about time that we should take India to mainstream America and showcase India’s rich culture, heritage, arts and diversity to the world. And I couldn’t find a better place than the center of the universe: Times Square.”
Bhasin, who came to the United States from India 40 years ago, is president of ASB Communications, the marketing firm behind Diwali at Times Square. The event, now in its fourth year, has drawn tens of thousands of people in the past. It’s scheduled for Oct. 7, from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m., with dance performances, Bollywood singers, a bazaar of food, saris and other goods, and a lighting ceremony.
While Diwali celebrations are held throughout the fall, the holiday’s actual date is Oct. 19. Also called Deepavali, it’s an autumn harvest festival held just before the Hindu new year. Celebrations include lighting oil lamps or candles called diyas to symbolize ”a victory of knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil,” said Bhasin.
The Diwali celebration at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, California, includes performances of traditional Indian dances and a Bollywood dance party for guests. It’s part of a festival of holidays at the theme park reflecting cultural traditions from around the world. The Disney festival begins Nov. 10 and runs through January 7.
San Antonio, Texas, has one of the nation’s largest city-sponsored celebrations of Diwali, drawing more than 15,000 people each year. The 2017 event, scheduled for Nov. 4 at La Villita, a historic arts village, will be its ninth annual Diwali celebration with Indian dance, entertainment, food, crafts, fireworks and the release of lighted candles into the San Antonio River along the city’s River Walk.
New York City’s Rubin Museum will mark Diwali with an overnight Ragas Live Festival featuring more than 50 Indian classical musicians performing amid the museum’s collection of sacred Himalayan art. The event begins Oct. 21 at 10 a.m. and continues all day and night through Oct. 22 at 10 a.m. Chai and mango lassis will be served, visitors will have access to all the galleries and pop-up events like meditation and sunrise prayer will be offered. Special tickets will be sold for the opportunity to sleep beneath the artwork.
Other places hosting Diwali celebrations include Cary, North Carolina, in Regency Park, October 14; Flushing Town Hall, Queens, New York, Oct. 29; the Seattle Center, Oct. 21, the Dulles Expo center in Chantilly, Virginia, Oct. 7-8; and Memorial Park in Cupertino, California, Sept. 30. In Columbus, Ohio, the Ohio History Center is hosting a photo exhibit about the city’s fast-growing population of immigrants from Nepal, Bhutan and India, with a Diwali event Oct. 8.
Bhasin said Diwali’s message is particularly timely now. ”It is extremely important to be together and showcase to the world, not only Indians, but the entire immigrant community, to be together with Americans and to show the world we are one, we are all the same human beings,” she said.