Indian festival celebrates light over the darkness of evil
As tourists traveled down the river on barges Saturday, they were greeted by a crowd that filled the Arneson River Theatre, clapping for Indian dancers performing on stage.
Bells jingled at many of the dancers’ ankles, while others elegantly spun holding lanterns, their vibrant and metallic outfits flowing as they carefully stepped and twirled.
The dance showcase on the river kicked off the annual Diwali SA, celebrating the Hindu Festival of Lights.
Saturday’s event, cohosted by the city and nonprofit Anuja SA, was the tenth in San Antonio since the city formed a sister-city relationship with Chennai, India in 2008.
San Antonio’s Diwali festival focuses on “very universal themes that everyone can participate in,” said Anuja SA President Kausi Subramaniam. “It basically celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance.”
“It’s just a really vibrant atmosphere,” said Sherry Dowlatshahi, the city’s chief diplomacy and protocol officer. “It really highlights some of these wonderful cultures that we have in our city.”
Last year’s festival had an estimated 17,000 attendees, a number organizers expected to top this year.
The move from La Villita, where it was held last year, was in part to better handle the crowds, Subramaniam said, who spread from the river theater through Hemisfair for several hours.
After dancers left the stage, a parade of barges representing 13 of India’s states floated past the theater, interspersed with river tours who became unexpected participants.
On the Karnataka float, women showed off colorful silk sarees, for which the state is known, while dancers performed on Gujarat’s float.
In Hemisfair park, Lexi Buentello and Davida Lahood led children and adults in Bollywood Zumba with seemingly endless sta- mina.
“It doesn’t matter your age, ethnicity or dance ability,” Buentello said, praising the energy of the event and of the zumba participants.
Long lines formed as customers ordered food from more than a dozen stalls dishing out cuisine from across India.
Rupal Patel, who waited in line for a popular rice dish called biryani, said her family comes every year to enjoy the food and festivities. The annual tradition is also about teaching children about the holiday and how it’s celebrated, she said.
Sanchita Ghose, a student at University of Texas at San Antonio from Bangladesh, said she was surprised to learn the city has such a large Diwali celebration.
“This feels like my home country,” she said. She and a group of friends enjoyed the Diya ceremony, which also moved from the river to the fountains below the Tower of Americas this year.
As the sun set, she and hundreds of others carefully placed tea light candles in small, biodegradable bowls, before floating them in the fountain, filling the water with tiny twinkling lights.
Harish Venkat, 6, places a lighted candle at Tower of the Americas during the Diwali San Antonio Festival of Lights. Diwali is India's most important holiday.
Members of Kalalaya Dance Group perform during the Diwali festival at the Arneson River Theatre on Saturday.