Diwali Shines Bright During First Official Celebration in Yonkers

The vibrant Indian community in Yonkers held its first official celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights.

On Friday, Nov. 3, over 100 people gathered in the banquet hall of of the acclaimed Neha Palace in southeast Yonkers. This totally free event was organized by The Matthew Wallace Foundation and sponsored by local businesses to bring this famous Indian festival to all the people of Yonkers.

What is Diwali?

Diwali, often referred to as the Festival of Lights, is one of India’s most significant and widely celebrated festivals. It typically occurs in October or November and lasts for five days. Diwali marks the victory of light over darkness and good over evil, and because of that, Diwali is for everyone.

In the lore of Northern India, it symbolizes the return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya after defeating the demon king Ravana. In celebration, people illuminate their homes with oil lamps, candles, and colorful decorations. This signifies the dispelling of darkness and the welcoming of prosperity.

Another stories tells of Sufi saint Kammruddin Shah and Hindu saint Chanchalnathji meeting in a cave that connected the Dargah and Chanchalnathji’s Aashram. It is to honor this 250-year old story of friendship, that the Hindu and Muslim residents light diyas and fireworks together; keeping the sentiment of Hindu-Muslim unity alive.

Some could even call Hanukkah the ‘Jewish Diwali,’ celebrated to commemorate the victory of good over evil since ancient times.

Diwali 2023 - lights and program
Lights with program – credit: Patrick Murphy

During this time, families exchange gifts, share special meals, and engage in prayers and religious ceremonies. Fireworks and cultural performances add to the festive spirit, making Diwali a time of joy, unity, and reflection.

Historically, Diwali can be traced back to ancient India. It is a festival of lights that stretches back more than 2,500 years. However, various legends are associated with the origin of Diwali. Many of these stories are about the triumph of good over evil. This is why Diwali unites people from every corner of the world irrespective of religion, race, ethnicity, or politics because at our core we all believe in good over evil.

Jeni Wallace – event organizer

Flavorful food and delightful dancing

Over a dozen large banquet tables surrounded a dance floor in the Neha Palace banquet hall. Decorations in pink and gold colors draped the room as guests mingled with old friends and greeted new ones. Delicious and fragrant foods overflowed the tables as the colorfully-dressed attendees enjoyed every bite. And after an opening peace prayer from H.H. Guru Dileepji Maharaj, the program began.

Diwali 2023 - Jeni Wallace with Symra Brandon, Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Mike Spano, Nader Sayegh
Jeni Wallace speaking to elected officials – credit: Patrick Murphy

Celebrating this inaugural festival were elected officials from all levels of government. New York State Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins announced her hope that the Governor will soon sign legislation making Diwali an official state holiday. Then, Assembly member Nader Sayegh bestowed two commendations to attendees. Firstly, the teenaged Neha Ramchandani for her volunteerism and then Deepa Ramchandani for her contributions to business community. Mayor Mike Spano also spoke on the hope that emerges from light as he proclaimed that day a holiday in the City of Yonkers.

Diwali 2023 - Girls dancing
Girls traditional dancing – credit: Patrick Murphy

The real party kicked-off following those speeches and commendations. Music and dancing filled the hall with a half-dozen special performing acts. Both adults and children shared traditional songs and dances as well as a tribute to the wildly popular “Bollywood” sensation. The decorative and ornate outfits flowed as the audience clapped for performances not often seen in Yonkers.

Sufficed to say, this first ever Diwali celebration in Yonkers welcomed all and showcased the rich culture of the Indian community in the city.

We were extremely happy to host Yonkers first Diwali Festival to foster cultural understanding and unity in our city’s beautiful tapestry.

The Matthew Wallace Foundation

View more photos of the event below

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