New York Mayor Declares Diwali School Holiday from 2023

New York City Mayor Eric Adams (second left) lights up a Kuthu Vilakku (standing brass lamp) with a diya or deepam, an oil lamp made from clay while Deputy Commissioner Dilip Chauhan (second right) looks on.

By Manik Mehta

NEW YORK, Oct 27 – The Festival of Lights, as Diwali or Deepavali is called, was accompanied by a plethora of celebrations organized by the burgeoning and financially powerful Indian diaspora in the U.S., joined by communities of Indian origin from other countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia,
Thailand, Mauritius, Surinam and Guyana.

On Monday in the White House, President Joe Biden and his wife personally greeted some 200 guests, including children of Indian immigrants. The President lit a diya (traditional lamp) and highlighted the
festival’s significance.

“The ongoing story of America, a story that is firmly stamped in the Indian American and South
Asian American experience, that’s why we’re here today,” Biden said in a speech.

Vice President Kamala Harris, who is also of Indian origin, joined in the celebrations and was
warmly applauded as she reminisced of her own Diwali celebrations in India during her visits
with her mother. She lit sparklers, and “we would go into the streets to celebrate this very
important occasion”.

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also hosted a Diwali reception at the Department of State on
Wednesday, October 26. Secretary Blinken was joined by Ambassador at Large for International
Religious Freedom Rashad Hussain and Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Deputy Assistant
Secretary Nancy Izzo Jackson.

In New York, the Diwali festivities kicked off in early October and started with a grand event at
the Seaport venue in the city’s downtown part; there was a large number of food stalls, dancers
attired in colourful clothing, shops selling Indian products, clothing, jewellery etc.

The Desai Foundation, whose aim is to empower women and children community programming
for elevating health, livelihood and caring for women’s health issues, livelihood and caring for
women’s issues, organized a Diwali-on-Hudson celebration, a charity gala, in the HK Hall in New
York City.

Diwali’s religious significance is also being appreciated in many Western countries; it has become something of a cultural landmark in the U.S. which is gaining popularity not only among the Indian diaspora and people of Indian origin but also among mainstream Americans who seem to be impressed by the religious and cultural aspects of the festival as also by the tantalizing and colourful clothes.

“It may be a Hindu festival but as you see, the people that are attracted here are not just those
from South and Southeast Asia or the Caribbean but also mainstream Americans who, initially,
may attend out of curiosity but later become fascinated by the religion, culture, colours and, the delicacies served during the occasion,” Siva Ramasamy, a Mauritian businessman who works as a stock broker in New York, told the Weekly Echo.

New York City mayor Eric Adams, who has been making appearances at a number of these celebrations also announced that Diwali will be a public school holiday in New York City from 2023.

He noted the action was “long overdue” for the city’s Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist students and communities.

Diwali, a celebration of triumph of light over darkness and of good over evil, is one of the most
sacred holidays observed by Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Some 200,000 New Yorkers
celebrate Diwali each year, according to New York state Assembly member Jenifer Rajkumari,
who had introduced a bill to recognize the holiday.

Meanwhile, the popular Indian epic Ramayana with its Diwali significance is being presented on
stage as a musical in New York. This epic is about Lord Rama, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, who rescues his wife Sita, an avatar of the goddess Lakshmi, after she is abducted by Ravana, a multi-headed demon king.

A preview of the musical was staged at the Indian Consulate General three days back in New York by Rimli Roy, the founder and artistic director of the organization called Surati for Performing Arts. Kolkata-born Roy, a dancer, choreographer, producer, director and actor, briefly explained to the Weekly Echo that the musical blends Indian music and dance with world genres.

The main characters in the Ramayana – Lord Rama, his wife Sita, his brother Laxman, Hanuman
and Ravana – are portrayed by American actors.

Finally, the Global Organization of People of Indian Origin (GOPIO) organized an event at the
Indian consulate in New York for Indian students studying at American universities “to give them a feeling of being at home away from home”, as an Indian diplomat put it. GOPIO, which has links with Indian organizations worldwide, including in Malaysia, invited a successful female entrepreneur and philanthropist Chandrika Tandon, who narrated her own experiences on first arriving in America and encouraged the students to have a positive attitude while staying in the U.S.