Neena Jain connected with her heritage Saturday when the Cary Diwali Festival brought a piece of India to the Triangle.
Since her relocation to Cary 18 years ago, Jain has been able to observe one of India’s most widely celebrated Hindu events, Diwali, with thousands of other Indian-Americans living in Cary, Morrisville and other Triangle-area municipalities nearly every year.
Thousands gathered at Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre on Saturday for the annual Cary Diwali Festival presented by Hum Sub, a nonprofit dedicated to sharing Indian traditions with North Carolina residents, and the Town of Cary.
Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, marks the victory of good over evil, light over dark, and the beginning of the new year. This year’s theme was Mahotsav, a grand celebration, in recognition of the event’s 15th year.
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“I’ve seen how things have grown,” Jain said. “There used to be 1,000 families. Now there’s more than 10,000 Indian families here. So the families are growing, and that’s a good sign.”
The first Cary Diwali Festival was at the Herbert C. Young Community Center on Wilkinson Avenue in Cary. But the ever-growing celebration moved to the amphitheater after only one year.
“Since 2001, when we first hosted Diwali, we’ve seen it grow from a small festival into one of the largest Indian cultural celebrations in the southeastern United States,” Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said. “Events like Diwali help contribute to Cary’s ranking as one of the greatest places to live, work and play.”
Throughout the day, attendees had a chance to see about 60 dance ensembles, buy traditional Indian clothing and jewelry and enjoy a taste of Indian cuisine, including dosas, a fermented crepe made from rice batter and black lentils.
Five-year-old Arya Shah took a break to munch on some spicy Indian noodles after her 9-year-old sister, Maya, and mother, Nina, performed onstage.
Her father, Amish Shah, a second-generation Indian-American, said he never appreciated Indian cultural events until he had children and wanted them to learn more about their culture.
“I want them to be exposed to it, so in the process I started enjoying it myself,” he said.
For the past 12 years, Zebulon resident Laurie Sandy has been bringing her adopted daughters, Marina and Kendra, to the festival so they can learn more about their heritage.
“This is a celebration we have all week long, and it culminates here with everybody else,” she said. “It’s like a little India but at home.”
The family most enjoyed the food, dances and clothes, including a set of bangles Marina purchased from one of the vendors. Sandy and her daughters purchase new clothes every year as part of a family tradition.
Aditya Gupta, a Hillsborough resident, said he enjoyed sharing information about Indian culture as part of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, a religious organization with beliefs based on select traditional Hindu scriptures.
“I just like being here,” he said. “It’s a nice crowd, and it’s not only Indian. There’s such a nice mix.”
Saturday’s festivities were set to wrap up with live concerts by Ambi Subramanium, Shurjo Bhattacharya and Bollywood singer Kavita Krishnamurti, followed by fireworks.
“I like how this community gets together to celebrate an event,” said Matt Barker of Vision Martial Arts in Cary. “Cary does a very good job of integrating cultures within its community.”
Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon