Shuba Vasan, Vandana Aneja and Sumana Rangachar perform the traditional folk dance, ghoomar.

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.

SAVE MONTCLAIR LOCAL: We need your support, and we need it today. The journalism you value from Montclair Local, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, depends on the community's support — we exist because the old model of selling ads alone just can't fund journalism at the level we endeavor to provide. That's why you've seen other local newsrooms cut back staff or shut down entirely. Montclair Local was created because we believe that's unacceptable; the community's at its best when triumphs are celebrated, when power is held to account, when diverse lived experiences are shared — when the community is well-informed.

Montclair is seeking to raise $230,000 from donors, members and grantors between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31 to put us on firm footing for 2022, and continue supporting the hard work of our journalists into the new year and beyond. Visit MontclairLocal.news/donations to see how we're doing and make your contribution.

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.

Varun Iyer plays the demon king Ravana.

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.”

Aruna Jain applies henna design to Aruna Ballem.