Oct. 26—A local festival celebrating India's largest and most important holiday of the year has a new home this fall, allowing guests to park and enter the event free of charge.
The American Desi Society is hosting the Diwali Festival & Show 2022 at McNair High School on Oct. 29, featuring cultural performances, a variety of ethnic food, and a raffle of expensive jewelry.
"Last year we held the festival at Oak Grove Park because of COVID restrictions," event chair Virtu Arora said. "And luckily we had great weather for an outdoor event. But we usually hold the event in a professional indoor venue like a theater or auditorium, and we wanted to return to that setting this year."
Arora said McNair was chosen because of its 736-seat theater and large cafeteria, the latter of which can accommodate dozens of vendors selling arts, crafts and food.
The theater, she said, has the lighting, sound acoustics and staging needed for the festival's performances to execute an entertaining program.
Last year's Diwali Festival & Show attracted more than 500 guests, Arora said, and the organization's Vaisakhi Spring Festival last April had more than 700 attend.
She hopes more people will come out for this weekend's celebration.
The name Diwali is derived from a Sanskrit word that means "row or series of light." It is a five-day celebration observed in the early autumn after the conclusion of the summer harvest and coincides with the new moon.
Diwali is a festival of lights similar to Christmas that celebrates the triumph of good over evil.
Another reason for the holiday is to celebrate the return of Lord Rama, his wife Sita and brother Laxman, to his home city of Ayodhya after his defeat of the demon Ravana — the story shared in the Ramayana. According to legend, the people of Ayodhya lit lamps to guide Lord Rama's plane home, as it was a moonless night.
Today, people still light lamps to celebrate the holiday, representing light overcoming darkness.
Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, is also connected to the holiday, as people offer prayers to her, and Diwali signals the end of the financial year in India.
Saturday's event begins at 3 p.m., with free snacks offered to attendees until 4 p.m.
Cultural performances will be presented from 6-9 p.m., with as many as 70 children participating. In addition, Guinness World Record holder Sahithi Latha will perform a Kuchipudi Dance.
Latha entered the Guinness Book of World Records for holding the largest Kuchipudi Dance, which included 6,117 participants.
This year's festival will also pay tribute to those in the Desi community who have passed in the last year, including Arora's 19-year-old son Eshan, who died from complications of Aplastic Anemia. A 2020 graduate of Lincoln High School, the younger Eshran was a pre-med student in the CSU system.
"He was a really bright child," Arora said. "This was a huge loss to our community. He went to all the Diwalis we held and volunteered with us each year. He was just a very good soul."
Arora said her son loved to play the tabla, or Indian drums, and his teacher Malkiat Singh will be paying tribute to him, along with Dr. Deepak Shrivastava. Several Bollywood stars who passed will be honored as well, including Lata Mangeshkar, a singer known as the Nightingale of India.
In addition, KS Jewelers of Stockton will provide five gold rings for a gala raffle.
In lieu of parking and admission, guests are asked to donate canned vegetables to support food banks throughout the county.
McNair High School is located at 9550 Ronald E. McNair Way in Stockton. For more information about Saturday's event, visit www.facebook.com/AmericanDesiSociety.
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