Diwali: A Light in Dark Times, Celebrated

“During difficult times in our world, it is important to celebrate our inner light,” explained Divya Swamy and Kishan Putta, the organizers of a large community celebration of Diwali — the South Asian Festival of Light, held on Saturday, Nov. 11.

For the past few years, the couple has organized public Diwali events in their neighborhood — with live music, folk dancing, Indian food, sweets, and hot spicy chai. It got bigger each year, so they moved it to a larger location — the outdoor pavilion at Hardy Recreation Center — where more than 400 people came together this year to celebrate.

First, Putta, an advisory neighborhood commissioner representing Burleith, Hillandale and parts of Georgetown, explained the origins of the holiday that celebrates good over evil and light over darkness, saying that, in dark times, it is our inner light that protects against falling prey to spiritual darkness, and that light will overcome.

He then introduced Jeannie Bauman and Karuna Antani to give a rousing folkdance lesson which eventually had over 100 people participating on the large field.

Then, while guests sampled the hundreds of handmade sweets prepared by Swamy, they were treated to the expert percussion skills of tabla maestro Ram Viswanathan who layered his mesmerizing beats atop rhythmic contemporary tunes.

Hundreds of sweets were served, all handmade by Divya Swamy. Courtesy Kishan Putta.

A co-sponsor of the event was Communikids Preschool, which last year opened a language immersion pre-K one block north of the Georgetown Safeway. They provided various children’s crafts and activities including making traditional clay lamps called diyas and drawing traditional floor designs called rangoli.

Mayor Bowser’s Director of Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs Ben DeGuzman celebrated the event. Ward 3 Council member Matthew Frumin attended for the second straight year and said, “I can’t believe how much this has grown in just one year.” Putta and Swamy agreed but weren’t too surprised, “There are not enough public cultural festivals outside downtown. It’s nice to bring them into the community.”

Putta and Swamy are pushing D.C. officials, including Frumin, to recognize Diwali on DC Public School calendars, so that students or staff who observe it can take the day to celebrate freely with their families, as with holidays for other faiths. “Diwali is an important time to come together as a community and we hope to build on these events to promote more recognition of all cultures in our city,” they wrote.

Next up, this spring, Putta and Swamy plan to hold their second annual Holi celebration — the Festival of Colors — in March or April.



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