By Celia Bernhardt | [email protected]
Borough Hall held a Diwali celebration in the evening of Nov. 8, with multiple musical and dance performances, speeches from elected officials, and the awarding of honors to individuals and organizations in the local Hindu, Sikh, Jain, and Buddhist communities.
The night began with the lighting of a Diya, a clay lamp lit with oil that is used during Diwali and holds deep symbolic meanings: protection, prosperity, purity and goodness, enlightenment, wisdom and the dispelling of darkness.
One of the honorees was Pandit Dam Hardowar, the leader of multiple community nonprofits and the Archaya (religious leader and teacher) of Shri Surya Narayan, a Mandir (Hindu Temple) established both in Jamaica, Queens and in Florida. He spoke about the meaning of the Diya, and the holiday overall, to the crowd.
“The Diya is a symbol of selflessness. It burns [from] itself to give light to my neighbor,” Hardowar said. “The Diya sacrifices itself so that you can have light…there is darkness in this world. There is lot of selfishness in this world. And Diwali must remind us that this darkness must be eradicated once and for all.”
Assemblymember Edward Braunstein spoke as well, celebrating that Diwali would become an official school holiday in New York City starting in 2024.
“It’s gonna be real for me when I look up there [on the calendar] and it says ‘Diwali: no school,’” Braunstein said. “And I’ll have the opportunity to sit down with my sons and my daughter and talk to them about what our neighbors celebrate.”
Five more honorees were recognized during the event: Sabita Das, Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri, Padma Likha Mangar, the Gujarati Samaj of New York and the Sri Sri Krishna Balaram Mandir.
While addressing the crowd, Borough President Donovan Richards emphasized the importance of reporting hate crimes.
“Our communities, for the most part, do a lot of underreporting—partially because we’re scared of our citizenship status. But I want to reassure you that we did a lot of work when I chaired the Public Safety Committee in the City Council to ensure that the New York City Police Department would not be cooperating with ICE,” the Borough President said. “We want everybody to feel safe when they walk the streets.”
Two hate crimes against Sikh men in Queens have made headlines in the past month—one attack aboard an MTA bus in Richmond Hill that left the victim with substantial injuries, and one assault after a minor fender bender that took the victim’s life. In both cases, attackers made comments about the victim’s turbans.
Fahmida Kazi, Community Associate with the Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services, enjoyed attending the event with her colleagues.
“The night was really fun,” Kazi said. “It was my first Diwali experience, and I got to learn a lot about the holiday. I’m really excited that it’s now a school holiday so people from other cultures have the time to learn and be exposed to [it].”