Diwali in New Jersey
By Lenore Holz
East Indians around the world celebrated the annual Diwali “festival of lights” on November 11, 2015, except in southern India which observed on November 10th. As popular as the American Christmas and with many similarities, this Hindu festival “Deepavali” is the most important celebration of the year for Indians, representing the spiritual victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. A pretty great reason to celebrate, don’t you think?
The direct translation of “Diwali” or “Dipavali” in Sanskrit is “a row of lamps.” Preparations and rituals leading up to the holiday typically last five days, and possibly several weeks, and include tidying up and decorating one’s home and workspace, culminating in the night of the darkest new moon between mid-October and mid-November. Diwali will fall on Sunday, October 30 in 2016.
At home, families honor the ancient tradition by lighting candles or lamps, exchanging small gifts, and enjoying a lavish meal with sweets. It can also mean praying, storytelling, and creating colorful works of traditional art. At public gatherings it’s an opportunity to dress in one’s finest clothes, visit a temple, and light fireworks.
Diwali is an official holiday in India and in some countries with a significant Hindu population, however the some 292,266 Asian Indians living in New Jersey aren’t so lucky. According to the 2010 census, Indians comprise only 3.3 percent of the total population of New Jersey, the highest ratio of all US states. These numbers represent almost a 73 percent increase from 2000 when Indian Americans living in New Jersey numbered 169,180.
Different organizations produced at least six major events in New Jersey where the Indian American population is most concentrated, especially Edison and Jersey City. A way to maintain Indian identity in the NJ community, these family-oriented gatherings typically showcase music, vendors, and amazing food, of course.
In Jersey City the Saraswati Cultural Association of New Jersey (SCANJ) held its inaugural Diwali celebration with a day-long street festival at Exchange Place on Saturday, October 25 sponsored in part by the city’s Cultural Affairs Department. Anita Chadha founded SCANJ in 1991 with the goal of enriching the local community with Indian culture. Attended by approximately 4,000 the outdoor event featured a stage for performances by Bollywood-style dance troupes with the audience happily dancing along as children burned sparklers. Revelers also enjoyed henna body art, raffles, face painting, and children's activities. Dozens of vendors formed a pop-up bazaar offering a quick bite and Indian-made goods such as candles, costume jewelry, and colorful apparel. Diwali also means shopping for gifts as an expression of love and abundance, as well as honoring Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Some celebrated in style paying $55 a ticket to attend Sparkles 2015, a formal family-friendly “bash” complete with a full course banquet, dancing, and performances at the La Quinta hotel in Secaucus.
Aum Events proclaimed to produce the “best and biggest” Diwali Mela (Mela translates as “gathering”) celebration in the tri-state area at the NJ Expo Center in Edison the weekend of November 7th and 8th. Approximately 15,000 attendees enjoyed a dance competition, celebrity performances, and a fashion show, as well as shopping, community connections, and plenty of popular and regional cuisines at 150 vendor booths. They even had fireworks.
In the Downtown Jersey City neighborhood of Paulus Hook the Baishya family of three dimmed the main lights in their highrise condominium, switched on some battery-powered tea lights, and exchanged small gifts to honor each other and celebrate a peaceful Diwali night at home.
Photography by Meenu Jandra.
About the Writer
Lenore Holz landed in Jersey City in July 2001 and hasn’t looked back. She helps others solve problems as Brownstone Concierge, crafts organic teas and fresh lemonade as Iced Tea Fusion, and teaches yoga. A self-identifying progressive, Lenore is committed to her community through advocating for the local economy, animals, and keeping Liberty State Park free and green. Lenore can be reached at Lenore@BrownstoneConcierge.com. #SaveLSP