Hudson County has experienced a dramatic increase in its Indian population over the last two decades, and the celebration of Diwali rivals Christmas and Hanukkah in many local households. So it’s only fitting a celebration took place this year along the waterfront in Jersey City.
Diwali, or Deepavali, is a Sanskrit word meaning “rows of lighted lamps.”
The Hindu festival is celebrated in India and by the Indian diaspora throughout the world. The five-day celebration is often known as the “festival of lights.”
Like many holidays of other faiths, Diwali has lost some of its religious roots and has become a national festival marked by most Indians, regardless of devotion.
Diwali falls between October and November, but the exact dates change each year based on the Hindu lunar calendar.
In India and other places, residents often leave their windows and doors open to allow the spirit of the holiday to find her way into their homes. Every home is lit in order to prevent darkness from entering and door stoops are decorated to welcome guests.
Organized by local arts group
In Jersey City, Surati’s Lights of Diwali Festival was held on Sunday, Nov. 5 at Exchange Place, drawing large crowds in spite of challenging weather earlier in the afternoon. Surati for Performing Arts and Education is an arts group based in Jersey City, but performs throughout Hudson County and elsewhere.
Artistic director and founder of Surati, Rimli Roy said the celebration of these festivals and holidays has become popular because it connects the immigrant community to its roots and allows Indian-born parents to share their heritage and cultural roots with their American-born children.
“Though the festival has its roots in India, we look at it as a celebration that enlightens minds and lifts up spirits,” she said.
With Indian classical dance at its base, Surati spotlights a number of art forms including ballet, jazz dancers, and musicians.
Surati’s Diwali celebrations, a Hindu tradition held every autumn, began in 2008 with on and off festivals throughout the years.
This year’s event at Exchange Place was sponsored by Carepoint Health, New Jersey City University, BCB Community Bank, The Hudson County Office of Cultural and Heritage Affairs, Jersey City Cultural Affairs, New York Life-Sangita Dutta, Buyrite Liquors and Fusion.
The highlight of the evening this year was Surati’s original version of The Ramayana Musical – Excerpts from “Ramaavan” – The Story of Ram and Ravan.” This is inspired by the epic tale “Ramayana” from India, an ancient literary work written by the sage Valmiki.
With a count of over 26 cast and crew members, the Ramayana Musical was performed in English to live and recorded music with elements of Indian classical dance, song, musical theater, opera, jazz, Indian dance theater and fusion genres from around the world.
The script was written by Arati Roy, original music was by Sumit Roy and Rajesh Roy, with costume and set design by Rimli Roy and Arati Roy. Sound design was by Bushwick Sounds and Lighting Design by Matt Catron.
The event was exclusively historic and an enthusiastic local audience enjoyed a Bollywood mashup performance by Honorary Special Guest Artist from India Rajesh Roy, a music composer, performer, and educator from Bollywood.
There were performances by local children and community members.
The event also featured yoga, inspired Indian dances, and even the performance of an Irish step dance. A student from New Jersey City University, Rutu Shah, presented a folk dance from the Indian state of Maharasthtra in her own innovative style.
Vocalist Sangeet Visharad Nayana Chakraborty sang songs in Hindi from Indian movies.
Al Sullivan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.