The vibrant colors, aromas, and traditions of two cultures blended into one downtown Saturday as San Antonio simultaneously honored those who have passed on and celebrated the power of good over evil.
Festival goers spilled over from the second night of Día de los Muertos celebrations at La Villita into the 11th annual Diwali San Antonio event at Hemisfair where there was live entertainment, food booths, handcrafts, and a river barge parade celebrating Indian culture.
Suresh Tunga, a Diwali San Antonio volunteer, was preparing for the candle-floating ceremony as families attending both festivals wandered through Hemisfair and into the grotto of the Henry B. González Convention Center, taking in the sights and sounds of both.
“That’s how it should be,” he said of the two events and people coming together. “Everybody is having fun. That’s what’s important.”
Parade floats made their way through the grotto bearing the colors and symbols representing various states of India. After the parade, 4,000 floating candles, or diyas, were lit and released into the San Antonio River at the grotto of the convention center. Attendees made a wish as they let the candles go.
Meanwhile, inside the convention center, costumed superheroes and other characters celebrated another culture of sorts at Alamo City Comic Con.
Diwali, the Indian “festival of lights,” is a way for people to celebrate good triumphing over evil and ignorance, said Tunga.
Created the year after the City of San Antonio signed a Sister City relationship with Chennai, India, in 2008, the event is today considered the largest city-sanctioned Diwali celebration in the United States, and the third-largest in the world outside of India.
“It was Mayor Phil Hardberger’s idea,” said Hema Viswanathan, wearing a deep blue and gold-embroidered sari. She moved to San Antonio 33 years ago and helped start the event. It was her husband’s idea to celebrate with the festival of lights, which is held across India, home to 1.3 billion people and thus many cultures and traditions.
Arun Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, was the guest of honor at San Antonio’s annual celebration of Indian culture. He signed copies of his book at a booth amid others that offered spicy foods, saffron-colored safas (headdresses), and henna tattoos.
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It was the second year in a row that San Antonio resident Iris Jones attended Diwali. She sat for a henna tattoo while she made plans with a friend to get “immersed in culture” and also attend Día de los Muertos across the street.