Come October, it’s festive time.
By Deepak Chitnis
WASHINGTON, DC: With Diwali celebrations coming up right around the corner in October, many Hindu organizations around the US are gearing up to host elaborate cultural and religious celebrations to mark the festival.
Major metropolitan areas like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, San Antonio, Atlanta, and Washington, DC will all host Diwali celebrations around mid-October. With the growing number of Indians in the US, Diwali is staking its claim as a major ethnic event in America, and one that will not live in obscurity.
In 2003, the White House held its first celebration of Diwali, under then-President George W. Bush. “Laura [Bush] joins me in sending our best wishes for a joyous Diwali. May the coming year be filled with hope and happiness,” President Bush said in a press release at the time. “[By] marking the beginning of the Hindu New Year, Diwali provides an opportunity to give thanks for the renewal of life, reflect on lessons learned and anticipate future blessings. By celebrating their beliefs, ancestry, and culture, Hindus in America and around the world enrich communities and ensure that important values and customs are passed on to future generations.”
The next political milestone for Diwali came under the Obama Administration. In 2009, President Barack Obama celebrated Diwali by having popular Indian-America a capella group Penn Masala perform at the White House, and even participated in a candle-lighting ceremony under the supervision of a Hindu priest. The event was captured on video and can be viewed on YouTube.
In 2011, the US Senate passed a resolution recognizing Diwali as a significant holiday for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs across the US, officially recognizing its cultural importance and legacy.
One of the biggest Diwali festivals this year will take place in Landover, Maryland. The event, hosted by the United Hindu Jain Temples Association (UHJTA) of the greater Washington metro area, is taking place at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins. This isn’t the first Diwali celebration to take place in a National Football League (NFL) stadium; in 2009, the Dallas-Fort Worth Indian Cultural Society hosted an event at the Cowboys Stadium — ironically home to one of the Redskins’ arch-rivals — which reportedly attracted around 100,000 people.
UHJTA President Vasanthi Aharam is confident, however, that the FedEx field event will be a big success, and will contribute to further knowledge and appreciation of Diwali all over the country.
“[Ours] is a unique organization and we celebrate Diwali with [the] community in unity,” said Aharam in an interview with The American Bazaar. “Diwali mela attracts thousands of people of all colors, nationalities, and religious beliefs. The enthusiasm and zeal with which the children and their parents participate and perform [in the Diwali celebrations] is unmatched.”
Aharam says that part of the reason her organization was so adamant in securing FedEx field — as opposed to a community center of a high school gymnasium, where events of this sort are typically held — was because their event will include the bursting of fireworks. The location was also chosen for advertising purposes — everyone in the DC/Maryland/Virginia area knows FedEx field — which helps get the world out for the October 5th event.
But the question everyone is wondering about is, will any actual Washington Redskins be at the Diwali mela, especially since the team will have their bye week (the one week every team gets off each season) at the time of the mela. Vasanthi confirmed that several players have been invited, but none have as yet confirmed their appearance.
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