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Houston celebrates Diwali

Indo-American Hindus observe Diwali with great religious sanctity and fanfare.

india Updated: Nov 10, 2005 15:46 IST

From the end of October through the beginning of November, Indo-American Hindus observe Diwali, the festival of lights, marking the victory of good over evil, and the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom after a 14-year exile, with great religious sanctity and fanfare.

The festival continues for weeks together during weekends and rows of bright-coloured bulbs are seen hanging from the houses lighting up the neighbourhood. And, outside their home the streets are filled with numerous cars of the family, friends celebrating the function together and the smell of holiday sweets fills the atmosphere.

Diwali all over America has come a long way from lighting a few candles inside their homes a few decades back to lighting their whole house with Christmas lights and Bollywood style Diyas. "When I came to this country in 70s, we just used to celebrate Diwali with a few friends and would light up a few candles inside our living room," said Usha, who has seen the changing colours of Diwali over the years. "Now it is more like a pre-Christmas celebration and even our American neighbours, who earlier used to think that we are getting ready for Christmas much before anyone, know that it is our major festival."

Diwali is now celebrated at White House by inviting prominent Indian Americans from across US and this year too it was celebrated "in a quiet and low-key manner" due to recent bomb blasts in India."

The President's Chief of the Staff Andrew Card, one of the higher ranking Bush administration officials, inaugurated the celebration by lighting the oil lamp.

This year, a row of 40 trees up and down 74th Street in Jackson Heights, New York, was lighted up for Diwali and will continue to shimmer through Eid, Christmas, Hanukkah, and the New Year.

Since last year Diwali in Houston, with over 100,000 Indians, is even celebrated at the City Hall and is inaugurated by Mayor and attended by various prominent dignitaries, besides Indian Americans.

Every year, the Indian community gears up to celebrate Diwali, thinking up new ways and themes to attract spectators and let their next generation know of their rich customs and traditions. Various Indian organisations and temples celebrate Diwali with great pomp and show.

Indo-American Forum of Fortbend (IAF), which promotes secularism and multi-culturalismin America; provides a platform for Indian Americans to socialise and perform useful community services, organised colourful and grand Diwali gala. This year the gala celebrated Rajasthan, enabling guests to take a visual ride through the desert state by way of vibrant decor, riot of colours, bandhinis all the way, traditional diyas, rangoli, rag puppets hung loosely from the ceiling and Rajasthani folk dances on the Bollywood tune. Everyone attending the gala wore Rajasthani dress, adding glamour to the festivities. Kids dressed in their festive best, greeted guests at the entrance with the traditional namaste and tilak ceremony.

The Consul General of India to Houston, Hon SM Gavai, the mayors of the City of Sugar Land and the City of Stafford, David Wallace and Leonard Scarcella, attended the gala respectively. Mayor Wallace and Mayor Scar-cella presented IAF with a proclamation honouring the festival of Diwali.

Sri Meenakshi Temple heralded the festival a week ahead, with the grand 'Deepavali bazaar' on Saturday, October 22. Pearland Mayor Tom Reid formally inaugurated the bazaar with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The annual Diwali Lakshmi puja was offered in the evening at the main Temple.

The highlights of the 'bazaar' this year were the free Health Fair, cultural arts entertainment, children's fancy dress parade, magic show for children, various vendors offering sale of fine clothing, costume jewellery, books, services and specialties. There were booths for bone marrow drive, research drives for anthropologic studies, study of cardiovascular disease incidence etc.

Art competition for children and a Rangoli contest for adults drew attention from several artists.

Several women went creative and portrayed, within the given time limit, interesting themes of beautiful village scene, Baby Krishna, Ganesha, colour patterns with little lamps 'painted' with coloured rice, flower petals, and colour powder.

The Houston Swaminarayan BAPS Temple organised a four-day Diwali-Annakut festival where the traditional rituals of Dhan Teras, Kali Chaudash, Diwali or Deep Utsav, and New Year's Day were celebrated.

A Vedic Mahapuja was held on Diwali day to welcome the New Year and prayers were offered for world peace, prosperity, success and happiness. The evening Cultural programme included a festival dance performed by children, bhajans sung by youths and elevating spiritual discourses by saints. An annakut was displayed for New Year's Day and included delicious dishes prepared by devotees and well wishers. People turned up early in the morning to perform the mangla aarti after which they also received the blessings of Pramukh Swami.

"It was a joy to start the New Year with Swamishri's blessings and words of wisdom. The annakut aarti was performed at noon after which people had the opportunity to have darshan of the Annakut," said a devotee.

"We wait eagerly for this colourful festival all through the year and enjoy firecrackers and lightshow at various temples," said Ananya, an American born teenager.

But most importantly, she said, Diwali is a rare occasion to gather with the whole family. "It reminds me to respect my parents and trust in their judgment," she said. "It's like Christmas in that it's more or less about getting together with your family."

First Published: Nov 10, 2005 11:57 IST