“That very first Diwali- when the fireworks went up- that’s a memory I can’t forget,” recalls Kausi Subramaniam, President of AnujaSA. That moment ten years ago, at the inaugural DiwaliSA, Kausi saw the culmination of her involvement in a sister city partnership search that began under then Mayor Phil Hardberger.
San Antonio officially began its sister city partnership with Chennai, India in 2008 and AnujaSA, the non-profit which manages the partnership, was organized in 2010. Shaily Patel, a long time dancer at DiwaliSA who grew up in India, explains why Diwali, India’s largest festival, is an important part of the culture.
The 10th Anniversary of Diwali will begin at Arneson River Theatre at 5 p.m. on November 3, 2018. Image Courtesy of AnujaSA.
Shaily Patel has been a dancer at DiwaliSA for ten years. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
The festival of Diwali, which originated as the New Year on the Hindu calendar, has become a two-week celebration enjoyed by people of all faiths in India. Shaily fondly recalls the dense, walkable environment in her native state of Gujarat in western India. She and other children would start early in the morning and visit their neighbors’ homes and touch the feet of their elders in exchange for “blessings” (i.e. rupees, the currency of India).
Downtown San Antonio is similar to her childhood neighborhood in terms of density and walkability, which is why Shaily says it’s important to have the celebration here. “This is the heart of San Antonio,” she remarks. She explains that when you think of large-scale community events, downtown is the first place that comes to mind.
Kuasi Subramaniam has been the President of AnujaSA since its inception in 2010. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Kausi adds that by holding it in the city’s true center, it makes the statement that this celebration is not just for the Indian community, but the entire San Antonio community. “We personally like to have people come out and celebrate with us,” she explains, “-try on our clothes, eat our food and celebrate Diwali.”
“We are more alike than we are different.”
One person who has discovered a lot about Indian culture through the festival is San Antonio resident Lya Icaza. Lya is Nicaraguan and her husband is Peruvian. She says they see important similarities between the Latin American and Indian cultures, especially with music and dance. “We are more alike than we are different,” she remarks. Lya loves that you can see a five-year-old dancing alongside an 80-year-old at DiwaliSA. “And I’ll get in there and dance right along with them,” she laughs.
Lya Icaza has discovered a whole new culture thanks to DiwaliSA. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
She and her family are self-professed “foodies” and were drawn to the festival for its unique culinary offerings. After attending, they discovered much more. From the Diya lights on the water, to the river parade of Indian states, to the diverse offering of traditional dance performances, Lya says she was enamored with the festival’s life and color.
The Indian state of Karnataka participating in the river parade. Image Courtesy of AnujaSA.
“I think I have learned so much more about India being here,” says Shaily. Though she grew up in India, it has been through DiwaliSA that she’s learned about the culture and languages of other Indian states. This year, she is dancing to represent the northern state of Haryana in the festival. She explains that to properly execute another region’s dances, it’s important to learn the language in order to understand the movements. 13 states will be represented in the river parade and performances this year, with 12 being represented by their respective regional association in San Antonio.
DiwaliSA is the largest city-sponsored Diwali festival in the United States. Last year, 17,000 people attended the one-night event and Kausi reports that they are expecting more for DiwaliSA’s 10th Anniversary this year. To accommodate its growth, this year’s event has expanded to include Hemisfair. There will be programming from Arneson River Theatre in La Villita to the fountains at the Tower of the Americas, where the candle Diyas will be placed.
DiwaliSA is a celebration of Indian cultures and an invitation to the entire San Antonio community to share in those cultures. Image Courtesy of AnujaSA.
“I feel like there’s a lot of positivity in this festival. People leave smiling,” Shaily shares.
For Lya, it is about breaking down barriers between people and cultures, “It brings some of the education to life.”
Kausi reiterates the importance of inclusion during this celebration of the victory of light over darkness: “We want everyone to feel that it is something very universal. This event is really for all of San Antonio.”