Diwali, the festival of lights, also known as ‘‘lichtjesfeest’’ in the Netherlands, is one of the major Hindu festivals celebrated around the world. It is a five-day-celebration, day three, which falls today, is the day of the Laxmi Puja and the return of Lord Rama, after defeating the evil king Ravana on Dusshera, 20 days prior.
Since there is a large population of Indians in Amstelveen, for the past decade, the Geemente Amstelveen along with KPMG and various other sponsors have helped organize a celebration of this festival through a day long event held at Stadshart, Amstelveen. This year, the ‘‘Diwali Festival Amstelveen’’ successfully hosted its tenth edition on November 3 with over 23,000 visitors and participants.
The event hosted a large array of restaurants offering different cuisines, spanning from the north to the south of India, including street food favorites of Pani Puri, Aloo Chaat and Momos to staple breakfasts of Dosa, popular tandoori curries and even the famous dessert of Jalebi cooked fresh. One could find people enjoying the food and warm Indian tea, chai, during the cold winter day while watching a variety of performances on stage.
Two of the event attendees, Lesley De Quartel (U.K) and Eric De Quartel (Netherlands) have been attending the event for the past six years, travelling all the way from Utrecht just to experience the food and festivities. When asked what motivates them to attend the event, their answer was a definitive and synchronised “the food.”
The festival started at 12 p.m. with performances from little children. The audience was also graced by the presence of Floor Gordon, Deputy Mayor of Amstelveen and Venu Rajamony, the Ambassador of India to the Netherlands. Starting from noon till the end of the program around 7 p.m., the stage was never empty. The audience were witnesses to a myriad of performances, ranging from the band performances of the most popular Bollywood songs to the traditional and folk dance performances.
The performances encompassed many dance schools and groups from the Netherlands, including Dansschool Moving Harmony, Sanskriti Group, The Netherlands Telugu Community and The Bong Beats and Bollywood Amsterdam to name a few. Towards the end, the audience also experienced a fun ‘‘jugalbandi’’ between dhol and saxophone by ‘‘Saxy Mr.S on Saxophone’’ and ‘‘Jhalak Punjab Di Bhangra’’. The atmosphere of the event had the crowd singing and dancing with the performers, everyone was thoroughly enjoying themselves.
An Indian spending her first Diwali away from home, Kirti Solanki, an artist by profession, claimed that she had a “homely feeling” while attending the event. The host of the event for 9 years now, Zhunaysha Gajadhar said she “feels very close to India because of this event; bringing back colors of India, people of India, it’s a Diwali mood.”
The planning of this atmosphere and ambience can be credited to Diwali Festival Amstelveen, the organisers of the event for the past decade. The original idea is a brainchild of (posthumous) Gopal Ramanathan, Ridder in de Orde van Oranje Nassau, his legacy is now carried forward by Rajiv Mehra, the Chairman of the Diwali Foundation, which is the main team behind Diwali Festival Amstelveen. In an interview with a Board Member of the Diwali Foundation, Elbert Waller, he explained how the format of the program was structured in a way that it is integrated with the identity of the city, because of which “ it attracts not only Indian origin people, but a lot of Dutch people as well.” When asked further about the origins of the event in Amsterdam, he mentioned, “The main original goal was to give Diwali, an important landmark in the Indian year, to have that visible and embedded in the Dutch culture and Dutch community, to make the connection.” He stressed on the idea that this was not something exclusive for a certain diaspora, since the purpose is to ‘‘build a bridge’’ between the communities and introduce more people to the beautiful celebration.
Another organising member of the event is Ritika Mehra, a volunteering Project Manager, whose family has been living in Amstelveen for the last 26 years and a part of the team since its inception. Reminiscing about the first edition, she said, “We stood in morning, and said look if 200 people come, this would be great. The first year alone 5 thousand people came. Throughout the years it has grown to 15 – 16 thousand people that come in a day and you can tell it’s from all backgrounds and all corners of the Netherlands as well.”
With such an increase in exposure of the festival, it now boasts a long list of sponsors including Municipalities of Amstelveen and Amsterdam, KPMG, BGN, TCS and many more.
The event can definitely be called a success with the crowd gathered reluctant to leave, which was made clear with the collective and elongated “No” when the host announced that the event was close to an end. Following tradition, at 7 p.m. the sky was lit up with colorful fireworks which enchanted all present at the location, thus marking the end of this festive day.
The Amsterdammer wishes its readers a bright and auspicious Diwali. May you have a “Shubh Diwali”.