The Association of Indians in America, (AIA), New York chapter, held its 36th Annual Deepavali Festival at South Street Seaport, Sunday, October 1, 2023, attracting a massive crowd for the day-long event.
Among the many attractions that visitors enjoyed was delectable cuisine prepared by Michelin Star Chef Hemant Mathur, rocking music of Basement Bhangra queen DJ Rekha and her team; enactment of the Ram Leela, and an impressive fireworks display on the East River that concluded the evening.
Established in 1967 with a mission to promote Indian culture tradition, and values among younger generations, the AIA lives by the motto, “Indian Heritage and American Commitment.”
AIA-NY President Dr. Jagdish Gupta, in his opening remarks from the Deepavali stage, elaborated on the main achievements of AIA over the last 56 years, working alongside the Indian American community, such as New York City recently recognizing Diwali as an official public school holiday; suspending Alternate Side Street Parking on Diwali since 2005; celebrating the festival of lights in the Governor’s home, Gracie Mansion, and later in White House since 2006; and release of a “Forever Stamp” commemorating Diwali in 2013.
The iconic Deepavali Festival at South Street Seaport was attended this year by State Assemblywoman Jennifer Rajkumar, who noted “Deepavali Day as a school holiday” in NYC, the largest public school system of a city in the nation.
Council Member Shekar Krishnan from District 25 in Jackson Heights in his speech explained the meaning of Deepavali as a ‘A row of lamps’ signifying the triumph of ‘Good over Evil’, ‘Light over Darkness’ and ‘Knowledge over Ignorance’.
Deputy Commissioner of Community Relations Bureau at the NYC Commission on Human Rights, Kajori Chaudhuri described Diwali as the festival of joy and happiness for families, celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and people of many different countries including Indo-Caribbeans.
Celebrations kicked off with the American national anthem sung by Toral Shah followed by the Indian national anthem sung in a chorus by the Executive Committee of AIA’s NY chapter and joined by everyone.
Swati Vaishnav curated the cultural show in which leading dance schools in the Tristate area participated, including Nartan Dance Academy, Reba Brown Dance Company, Kalakriti Academy of Arts, Neela Zareen Dance Academy, Shehnaaz Dance Academy and Ranjaneeny Dance School.
The classical and traditional cultural program was emceed by Siddhi Vaishnav.
All performances received resounding applause. Vaishnav also conducted a workshop with children on the stage and audience participation for various dance moves. It was well received.
More than 100 children of all ages took part at the Children’s Kiosk this year, creating eco-friendly crafts with Ingrid Van Shipley and her assistant on the theme of “Recycle, Reuse and Recreate’ art work.
Internationally renowned ophthalmologist, Dr. VK Raju, founder and president of ‘The Eye Foundation of America’ dedicated to realizing a world without childhood blindness, was honored for his vision and work in 25 countries.
The celebration continued with the reenactment of Ram Leela, directed by Pandit Satya Narayan Charka. He has been directing Ram Leela in AIA-NY Deepavali Festivals for the last 36 years. The organization thanked him for his devotion. More than 15 artists displayed their talent in enacting the story, and performing the dance and musical component.
“Young and old in the audience were riveted by it,” organizers said in the press release.
The star entertainment of the evening was DJ Rekha and her team – MC Reena Shah, Alisha Desai, Juhi Desai, Avish on Dhol, Elizabeth Pupo-Walker as percussionist, dancers and instructors who kept the audience spellbound with bhangra moves.
The fireworks extravaganza from the barge on East River, accompanied by Indian music was cheered by the crowd. The amazing pyro technique display watched by hundreds from the observation deck, lasted almost 30 minutes and was riveting, with multiple colors and shapes,
“The event of this magnitude is not possible without the support of the community at large including major sponsors,” sponsors, organizers said. Sponsors included CheapOair and Qatar Airways, New York Life, Mount Sinai Health System, Northwell Health System, Eye Foundation of America, and The Brooklyn Hospital Center.
President Dr. Gupta also expressed gratitude to his executive committee, advisers, and media sponsors for their support.