In­dian fes­ti­val cel­e­brates light over the dark­ness of evil

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Metro - By Liz Teitz STAFF WRITER LTeitz@ex­ | @LizTeitz

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.

Pho­tos by Car­los Javier Sanchez / Con­trib­u­tor

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.

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