Popularly known as “The Festival of Lights,” Dallas hosted the annual Diwali Mela Festival Nov. 4, which seemed to carry a torch for those attending from hurricane-ravaged areas.
Diwali is a Hindi festival held to commemorate the victory of good over evil, and its name is derived from the Sanskrit word “deepawali,” which translates to “row of lights.”
According to the festival’s official website, when Lord Rama, hero of the famous epic poem the Ramayana, returned to India after exile, the people lit his way with small lights. Today, people light lanterns and candles and hang them in public places to light up the night in honor of the festival.
The festival’s hopeful message of light triumphing over darkness was especially important to Houstonians making the journey. After Hurricane Harvey, the DFW Indian Cultural Society anticipated a larger number of Houston’s Indian population than in years past, and are aiding the ongoing hurricane relief efforts.
“It’s not even a question. Whatever help we can provide.” said festival founder Satish Gupta.
Though cities like Chicago and New York have much larger populations of Indian diaspora, the New York Times reported around 60,000 people were expected in Dallas last weekend to participate in the festivities.
The Dallas festival draws such a crowd that Bollywood singers fly in from India to perform, and a massive live performance of the Ramayana is staged by a cast of volunteers every year. And there’s nothing quite like the food.
Vendors offered desserts like: chum chum, coconut-coated milk solids; jangiri, fritters soaked in sugar syrup; and payasam, a milk pudding flavored with saffron. Lines become so long that stands had to be set up for people to wait.
“We want to create an environment like the street markets in Bombay,” Anil Sukkagopal of Bawarchi Biryanis restaurant said in an interview. “We’ll be yelling and shouting about our food. People will be crowding around. It’s a sensory experience.”