You did not need a passport or an airline ticket for a colorful passage to India on Saturday.
Thousands came together at the Koka Booth Amphitheatre to mark Diwali and share in a cultural experience that celebrated much more than the Hindu festival of lights.
The Cary Diwali festival provided a chance for families to pass along traditions such as dance to younger generations and to share customs with Cary residents and visitors experiencing the holiday for the first time.
There was a confetti of entertainment.
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Diwali, for many, symbolizes new beginnings. Observers often mark the occasion by lighting lamps, candles and fireworks to show “victory over evil” or “light over darkness” or “knowledge over ignorance.”
This year’s festival focused on volunteerism, especially among the young. The theme was Aapo Deepo Bhava, meaning “Be a light unto yourself.”
Children and adults in dazzling traditional dress danced and performed on stage.
People lingered over heaping plates of biryani, dosas made from rice batter and black lentils, tandoori chicken, the creamy spinach dish called palak paneer and lots of sweets such as gulab jamun — dumplings made of thickened or reduced milk.
Aditi Majumdar, an artist who moved to Cary six years ago when her husband’s job brought the family to North Carolina from India, stood behind a table with an array of exotic fabric, clothes and jewelry that she was selling.
“This brings the community together,” Majumdar said.
Cary and nearby Morrisville, which has been described as the Triangle’s Little India, has seen the percentage of its population base of Indian origins more than double since 2000, according to census reports.
The growth, Cary residents say, is largely tied to the proximity to Research Triangle Park and the multinational tech and pharmaceutical companies.
Naren Bhardwaj moved to Wake County a year ago from New York because of his job. He brought his children to the Cary festival for a taste of the home country.
Though New York’s Indian population was larger and Diwali is celebrated in grand fashion there, Bhardwaj said, the Cary festival brought together a larger crowd.
“The New York community is much bigger, but they are more spread out,” he said. “They are all over the place there.”
Jodi Wilden, a health coach who recently moved to Cary from Louisiana, brought her children to the festival to teach them about other cultures.
A second-generation American, Wilden celebrates her German and Austrian ties. But on Saturday, she was proud to show the henna tattoo painted on her hand that day and talk about the exhibits at the Diwali festival that gave her 8-year-old son a window into a country he has not yet been able to visit.
“I love to expose my kids to other cultures and I can’t always take them to those places,” Wilden said. “I think it’s important to share other cultures.”
Jennifer Koach, a cultural arts program specialist with Cary, said on Saturday that exploring different cultures was one of the reasons for offering the festival for the 14th year in Cary.
“Part of our goal is to celebrate the diversity,” Koach said Saturday.