By DIEGO JESUS BARTESAGHI MENA
On Oct. 16, Montclair will light up for the day in its first community wide celebration of Diwali, marked by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists.
Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, celebrates the new year and light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.
AAPI Montclair, which represents Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Montclair Art Museum, will host “Light Up Montclair” at the museum, located at 3 South Mountain Ave., from noon to 3 p.m. Montclair Local is a sponsor of the event and will have a table present.
“We were looking for things that we could celebrate about different aspects of our culture,” Linda Kow, co-founder of Montclair AAPI, said. “Not to say that the celebrations haven’t happened, but they’ve been smaller within our own communities.”
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The event is a way to showcase the experience of the South Asian community and to celebrate Asian cultural holidays by bringing Montclairians together.
Julie Kim, also a co-founder of Montclair AAPI, said, “People are craving connections, family events, and I think cultural holidays and events like this really showcase the diversity of Montclair and also the inclusionary nature of Montclair. And that’s why we felt it was so important for us to have this event be a communitywide event.”
Kow said another reason to celebrate Diwali in a community setting has to do with the rise of anti-Asian violence over the past year. The event, Kow said, is a way to educate people about the Asian American and South Asian community and its customs.
“This is another one of our attempts to make ourselves more visible, make ourselves more known and educate the larger community about who we are,” she said. “Because we believe, I mean, really in the way to prevent some of the anti-Asian hate and misunderstandings is through education and putting ourselves out there. Not only where there’s tragedy that hits our community, but also sharing our joy and our celebrations.”
The religious significance of Diwali varies regionally. Sumeet Kapoor, one of the organizers of the event, said the mythology of Diwali goes back to when Prince Rama came back to the kingdom of Ayodhya in India after 14 years of exile. The people of the kingdom and surrounding villages lit oil lamps to show him the pathway back home.
“And throughout the years, Diwali is basically the celebration of light over darkness. It’s our new year,” Kapoor said. “Families get together.”
Kapoor said Diwali is celebrated for five days. Families thoroughly clean their homes, put decorations up, prepare sweets and desserts for friends and family and bring presents for kids, among other things.
Sri Maha Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, abundance and well-being, is the main deity worshipped, and people light the outside of their homes for Lakshmi to make her way to their homes.
Varsha Hathiramani, another organizer of the event, said, “We pray to the goddess Lakshmi, and she is for wealth as well as health. So, we definitely want to do that. There’s a lot of prayers that come with it.”
Both Kapoor and Hathiramani grew up celebrating Diwali and had fond memories. They, along with AAPI Montclair, want the community to experience that celebration.
The event, which will be held outdoors on the museum’s front lawn, will have crafts for kids, food vendors and henna artists. State Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D- 33) will speak about a new bill to make AAPI history part of the K-12 school curriculum.
“It got enough support to come to a full vote,” Kow said. “This is something that we at AAPI Montclair and many other organizations are supporting as well. So, we’re going to have a talk about it as well, which I think is really important.”
For the activities, kids will be able to make rangoli designs, which are decorations usually drawn on the floor or the entrances of homes and thought to bring good luck and prosperity. They will also be able to decorate diyas, small clay pots, which are the main symbols of Diwali.
For the older audience, Indian block printing and batik painting, a textile technique that uses wax and dye to create patterns on a piece of fabric, will be offered. Artist Ritika Gandhi will lead those workshop.s Henna artists will be charging a small fee for a hand design.
“There will be classical dancing and music, and we will have fun Bollywood dancing, which I think people are more aware of because of our movies,” Kapoor said. “We do have a wonderful South Asian author, Sheetal Sheth, who will be reading her second children’s book.” Sheth will bring copies of her book, “Bravo Anjali,” to sell.
The Montclair Public Library will be joining the event as well, bringing books by South Asian authors.
“It’s going to be a great community event, trying to include everybody in something for everyone,” Hathiramani said.
Tickets, at $5, are on sale online through the AAPI Montclair website at aapimontclair.org/diwali-2021. Limited fee waivers will be available on the day of the event for people unable to pay. Masks will be required, as well as proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test within three days.
The rain date will be Oct. 17.