By GRACE WILLIAMS
For Montclair Local
Two hundred people packed Apna Punjab Banquet Hall on Bloomfield Avenue on Nov. 18 to celebrate Diwali, the Indian celebration of purification, victory of good over evil and of light over darkness.
Attendees make it a point to dress in bright, beautiful colors and to add touches of shimmer and shine wherever possible. The five-day holiday takes place in the autumn. This year, Diwali took place Nov. 6-10, although the Diwali Festival was held afterwards.
“It’s the first event like this we have had,” said banquet hall owner Anita Popli, adding she was pleased when the Montclair community called to ask about hosting the event there. Though the Diwali Festival celebrates her home country, she said with a smile, “I don’t care about winter. I love New Jersey.”
Besides being a fantastic excuse to dress up, gather and eat, the event served as a way to teach the younger generations about the rich traditions and culture found in their roots.
Among the activities was a reenactment of the Ramayana, a Sanskrit poem that details divine Prince Rama’s quest to rescue his wife Sita from Ravana, a demon king. About 15 costumed children took part.
After the children performed, a group of mothers took to the stage and performed a Bollywood-style dance. Sumana Rangachar said the mothers met for a handful of weeks to rehearse the dance.
“I had the most fun rehearsing,” Rangachar said. “But today was fun too.”
The festival included an Indian photo booth with props, henna, raffles, a buffet lunch and, of course more dancing, including a Dhandiya, a traditional folk dance that uses colorful sticks requiring participants to weave in and out of the sticks.
Sunday’s event was an offshoot of a gathering that started over a decade ago as a picnic in Brookdale Park, according to Natasha Mathias, a founder of the group. She served as emcee for the afternoon. Mathias, who is also the owner of Sparkles, a pediatric dental practice in Montclair, says that over time, word spread about the event via Facebook, and more attendees followed suit.
“It is a feast for the senses,” said Mathias. He said that the planning committee spent a little over two months planning the event.
Among the vendors selling jewelry and saris, was a young entrepreneur, 13-year-old Anika Pappu. She calls herself “Anika Pappu of Revanika,” honoring her sister’s name Reva: Revanika is a hybrid of their names, and her business, which is about a year old, was sparked by the desire to find safe toys for Reva to put in her mouth.
She sells non-toxic items that are safe to taste and items for the younger crowd that include craft kits.
For Pappu, Diwali is a way to connect. “I wanted to stick with the culture,” she said. “Even though I’m not as religious as everyone in my family, I still want to be connected to everyone before me and know where I came from.”