Lights Up at Indian Fest Diwali
At South Street Seaport on October 2, intricate decorations hung from pop-up tents. The decorations, part of a stand with many small trinkets, were filled with their promises of prosperity or fertility. A woman with deep brown eyes and tiny wrinkles assured me that each decoration was hand sewn by South Asian women, handing me a tiny elephant with her pricked and calloused fingers. Next to her, a table held plates of colorful food, like piles of spiced rice, stacked samosas and curries. Its owners were young men whose families have been coming to the Diwali festival since its first year, 13 years ago.
These stations were all part of Deepavali, which is also known as Diwali, the official term for the Festival of Lights celebration that marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year according to the Lunar calendar. The festival is the celebration of goodness triumphing evil and light concurring darkness. The festival lasts five days during which Hindus pray to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth, light, prosperity and wisdom and as well as to Ganesha the “Remover of Obstacles.”
“Diwali festival has allowed us to expand our business; we now have four restaurants in the area,” said Umair Abid, 25, part of the Shalimar Restaurant team. “We have the most food available here,” he later said.
Though the festivities at South Street Seaport abound, the gathering has less of a presence at the New School. “Diwali is a very important festival for Indians all over the world. However, I’m not aware of an event happening to celebrate it at The New School. I would be very happy if there was some kind of event that would bring together the Indian community here to celebrate this bright festival,” said Parsons Sophomore Maharashtra India Ashni Tapuriah, an Interior Design major from Mumbai. There are a total of 120 students who are from India attending New School, 90 of whom are undergraduates, making them the third largest of the international students (just behind Korea and Canada) according to the 2010 New School Fact Book.
“We are currently recruiting to our [Student and Exchange Visitor Information System], Coordinator position, who would normally run a report on Indian student contacts,” said Monique Ngozi Nri, Senior Director of International Student Services. “We make announcements in ISS News about country specific celebrations, but our programming tends to be more inclusive of all internationals and seeks to promote exchange between internationals and US students.”
At the Festival of Lights, not only are there programs for South Asians but for people of any denomination and ethnicity, as represented by the “Science of Spirituality” is booth set up right before one exits the Festival of Lights. “Everybody is welcome here. We want to introduce people to inner peace through meditation; this is about spirituality, not religion,” said Usha Hemrajani, 50, who stands inside her tent next to a photo of Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, the group’s guru-like leader.
Although filled with playful shops and loud tunes from today’s latest Indian pop music, Diwali is a festival meant to bring hope and influence to the community; this fact is as luminous as the sun.