WESTFIELD, NJ — Decorated saris, twinkling lights and the sounds of upbeat Indian songs marked the occasion the first-ever Westfield Community Diwali party held earlier this month. More than 300 Westfield residents gathered at the JCC in Scotch Plains, bringing various cultures, ethnicities and families together to celebrate the Festival of Lights.
Guests initiated the celebrations by conducting a traditional puja, or prayer ceremony and lighting diyas (lamps). The guest of honor, Congressman Tom Malinowski, gave a speech praising the community for its diversity and lit the diya.
Attendees watched cultural performances of singing and dancing performed by local residents, danced to the beats of popular Bollywood tracks and savored unique Indian entrees and desserts. Children were able to partake in activities such as creating paper lanterns, decorating their own diyas and coloring designs of patterned rangolis.
“The performances were my favorite part of the night,” said guest Kavya Panjwani. “I think they did a wonderful job of highlighting some beautiful Indian traditions and really added to the whole Diwali celebration.”
The celebration would not have been brought to life without the abundance of local volunteers who served as party planners, ticket sellers, venue decorators, brochure designers and more. Westfield High School students assisted by checking guests into the venue and introducing the cultural performances.
In previous years, Diwali celebrations were hosted by resident Sushmita Srivastav, who invited families into her home to honor the holiday. However, as the Southeast Asian community of Westfield has expanded, the gathering was moved to a larger venue this year, letting even more partygoers enjoy the celebration.
Srivastav feels an immense amount of pride in the way the community has taken up the tradition of observing Diwali together.
“My hope has been to have a community in which people can identify with and feel proud of,” she said. “Though the party started in my house over the years, it would not have been possible to make it a Westfield event without the help of Juliana Mehta and her dedication to it.”
Guests echoed their appreciation for the joyous celebration, and especially for allowing their children to immerse themselves in the excitement of Diwali. Many second or third-generation immigrants often struggle with balancing their lives in America with their cultural heritage, but parents were pleased with how many children embraced the opportunity to partake in activities, watch performances and dance to Indian songs with their friends.
Members of the community hopes for another Diwali party to take place next year in a way that will similarly reflect the community’s appreciation for the holiday.
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