- Home gatherings, car parades, food donations and drives mark the Festival of Lights.
The surge in the number of Covid-19 cases did not deter Indian Americans from celebrating Diwali, the Festival of Lights, this past weekend. From the East Coast to the West, and in other parts of the country, people of all ages observed the festival with family gatherings, religious ceremonies, fireworks, food and frolic. Though the festivities were mainly limited to peoples’ homes, some organizations came up with innovative ways to mark the occasion. Several groups conducted food drives and donations to the underprivileged. Temples too were forced to restrict the number of devotees, and Diwali rituals were streamed online.
In Jersey City, New Jersey, people took to the streets to burst fireworks and celebrate the festival on Nov. 14. A month earlier, the city had cancelled the festival of Navratri, where normally thousands would congregate in the city’s ‘Little India’ section to swirl around, performing garba and dandiya into the wee hours of the morning.
Some annual outdoor events were held, but were on a smaller scale. In Milpitas, California, the Association of Indo Americans, the Consulate General of India, San Francisco, and Bolly 92.3 presented the annual “Dussehra and Diwali Dhamaka” event on Nov. 7. Several local elected officials addressed the event. A cultural dance competition was held online. The entire event was streamed live on Facebook and Zoom.
A week later, a large number of Indian Americans participated in a car parade in the Roseville section of Sacramento, California, Nov. 15. The event was organized by the Sacramento chapter of SEWA, a humanitarian, nonprofit service organization that originated in India. People dressed in traditional Indian clothes, with children and family waving, cheering, showcased their cars with decorated lights and Diwali motifs depicting the spirit of the festival.
Apart from the car parade, the chapter received more than 50 pounds of canned food donations through a Diwali food drive, which was later donated to the local food bank. In Jersey City, volunteers from the Hindu Swayamsevak Singh and SEWA local chapter donated 700 pounds of food collected as part of Sewa Diwali to The We Project. SEWA and HSS organized similar food drives in other parts of the country.
However, in metros like San Francisco, the ban on indoor dining began on Nov. 14, spoiling the festivities for several restaurant owners. Ranjan Dey, owner of New Delhi restaurant in San Francisco’s Union Square told Bay Area CBS affiliate KPIX5 that instead of preparing food for a busy Diwali weekend, he and his staff were busy cancelling reservations. “The timing, I think nobody really paid attention to small business — Indian businesses — that it has played havoc,” he told the news channel.
Another community organization that observed Diwali by providing food to the underprivileged in the community is the Federation of Indian American Associations of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The organization distributed meals in soup kitchens to people at seven soup kitchens in the tristate area. Through its first ‘Diwali Soup Kitchen – Spreading Lights of Happiness’ initiative, the FIA distributed over 4,000 meals prepared in commercial and certified facilities from Oct. 21 through Nov. 7. Similar food drives were held in Ahmedabad and Vadodara in Gujarat.
The Weehawken Swaminarayan Temple in New Jersey also donated 92 goodie bags to Weehawken Township Police Officers and EMS on the occasion of Diwali. Youth volunteers gathered at Town Hall and got to meet Mayor Richard F. Turner, along with prominent members of the community. The temple also donated household items to Palisades Emergency ResidenceCorporation of NJ.
Several temples across the country observed strict social distancing and mask mandates during the Diwali festivities. All rituals were streamed online as well. BAPS Swaminarayan temples observed the Gujarati New Year on Nov. 15 by organizing the Govardhan puja and offering Annakoot (a mountain for food symbolizing the Govardhan mountain) to the deities.
Sikh Americans gathered at gurdwaras on Nov. 15 to celebrate Bandi Chhor Divas, to commemorate the sixth Guru of Sikhs, Guru Hargobind was released from Gwalior Fort. Emperor Jahangir had held him at the Gwalior Fort for several months. A Sikh temple, Gurdwara Data Bandi Chhor Sahib, is located at the place of the Guru’s internment in the Fort.
The FIA also held the annual lightening of the Empire State Building on the occasion of Diwali. The New York City landmark was lit orange to celebrate the Festival of Lights on Nov. 3. The annual event, which began in 2018, is organized in cooperation with the Empire State Realty Trust (ESRT).
Bhargavi immigrated to the U.S. in 1997 and has worked with Indian American media since then in various capacities. She has a degree in English literature and French. Through an opportunity from Alliance Française de New York, Bhargavi taught French at Baruch college for over a year. After taking a break and two kids later, she went back to work in the Desi media. An adventure sport enthusiast, in her free time, she likes to cook, bake or go for hikes, biking and long walks.