DIWALI: Vancouver celebrates ‘the universal light that exists in everyone’

Saturday’s grand finale of Vancouver Celebrates Diwali is an international drum jam, featuring the group Sticks ’n’ Skins. Submitted photo

LARISSA CAHUTE
VANCOUVER DESI

Vancouver Celebrates Diwali is a seven-day-long “cultural extravaganza.”

The ninth annual festival kicked off Nov. 3 with workshops in community centres across the city and continues until its grand finale Nov. 10 with Diwali Downtown at Yaletown’s Roundhouse Community Centre.

The neighbourhood workshops consisted of Diwali programming like diya painting for children, sari wrapping demonstrations and henna painting.

“This is how we bring the spirit and traditions of Diwali out into the city and into neighbourhoods,” said festival producer Sean Devine.

The workshops are also a great way for the community to get involved in the celebrations if they can’t make it to the downtown event, said event co-chair, Ashley Avinashi. “There’s something in any of those workshops for everyone,” she said.

For more on Surrey’s Diwali celebrations, click here.

But for Avinashi, it all leads up to Diwali Downtown.

“I love the Saturday event,” she said.

In 2010, 5,000 people came out to the Roundhouse and they’re prepared for about the same this year.

The main event runs from 3 to 8 p.m. with  a number of performances from live music and dancing, to compilation artists — or “Diwali fusions” — a craft bazaar and a ton of food.

Devine suggests to watch out for musical group LAPIS, featuring classical Indian sitar player Mohamed Assani fused with local hip-hop artist Rup Sidhu as well as kathak flamenco performances: a fusion of classical Indian dance and flamenco, and of course tasty menu items from Vancouver’s famous Vij’s Railway Express.

“We just kind of turn it into a big massive Indian festival for that one day,” said Devine. “When coming to Diwali Downtown [our audience] gets to watch shows, they get to take part in interactive workshops and learn about Diwali, culture, dance workshops, buy and build crafts and eat some pretty fantastic food.”

Saturday’s grand finale is an international drum jam, featuring the group Sticks ’n’ Skins along with a lantern lighting procession, which coincides with themes of Illumination and Cultural Fusion and the slogan, “light your spirit.”

“Diwali is a holiday that celebrates the victory of light over darkness . . . good over evil, of prosperity over poverty,” said Devine. “Diwali celebrates the universal light that exists in everyone.

“We don’t just mean lighting things up, we also just mean illuminating our community and our audience about what Diwali stands for.”

“Focusing on cultural fusion” means the celebrations extend beyond the local South Asian community – it’s open for everyone.

“This has not only become a festival that showcases talent within the Southeast Asian community, but we’ve really been able to invite a lot of people from outside cultures to bring and showcase their talents,” said Avinashi. “It’s really fun to see just such a wide group of individuals from all walks of life come out to enjoy talent that once traditionally we thought only our own cultures were into.”

“It really just caters to a very broad audience.”

Devine believes the holiday serves as a positive lens for multiculturalism.

“We really do use this as a cultural lens for developing harmony, for community building and for just continuing to put out positive images and positive association with South Asian culture and the South Asian community in Vancouver since that itself is becoming more and more important,” he said. “They’ll see that South Asian culture and the holiday of Diwali is really becoming a prominent part of [the city].

“It represents the very, very eclectic nature that is Vancouver.”

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