Every year, people from around the world gather at Times Square for New Year’s Eve. For the last four years, they have also gathered though in somewhat smaller numbers for the Indian New Year or Diwali, the Hindu new year, popularly known as the Festival of Lights, which is observed by several faiths in India, and is a regular event at the White House for many years.
This year’s Diwali at the “Crossroads of the World” was celebrated Oct. 7, and Indian-Americans came from around the Tristate area and elsewhere to enjoy the music and lighting. This year Diwali falls on Oct. 19.
“Diwali at Times Square” this year was organized by Neeta Bhasin and Sankara Eye Foundation, a non-profit which has performed more than 1.6 million free eye care surgeries in India, and will soon be opening hospitals in Jaipur, Telangana and Indore.
The event kicked off with a diya lighting ceremony at 2 p.m. where dignitaries, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, and sponsors joined in and wished the crowds well.
“Happy Diwali to everyone and Happy New Year to my Gujarati brothers and sisters; this is a great initiative by Neeta and Harish, there is nothing like Times Square and Diwali on Times Square is really an ultimate celebration,” said Dr. Sudhir Parikh, publisher of Desi Talk and recipient of India’s Padma Shri award.
India’s Consul General in New York Sandeep Chakravorty, who was also present, thanked Congresswoman Maloney for joining the initiative for the Diwali Stamp issued by the U.S. Postal Service a year ago. “There is another request from the Indian community, for a school holiday on Diwali,” Chakravorty said to Maloney and the enthusiastic crowd.
Maloney noted the symbolism of celebrating the festival of lights in the City of Lights and in the most lit up area of the city – Times Square.
Performances were given by local college dance teams, local dance groups and SHIAMAK USA along with celebrities Aamir Ali and Sanjeeda Sheikh of Nach Baliye 3 Fame, as well as Bollywood dancer, choreographer and Judge Terence Lewis who claims that his soul belongs in New York City from the time he first saw Times Square 17 years ago in boy-like wonder.
“New York has that vibe, that spirit, that aliveness, that creativity, and that really, really kind of shines through it and for me I connect with that energy and the openness of New York, it’s a city where dreams are made of and you dream with your eyes open,” explained Lewis at a press conference. He dedicated his performance to the Big Apple.
Hamsika Iyer, who sang her famous song “1, 2, 3, 4 Get on the Dance Floor” from the film Chennai Express along with her favorite A.R. Rahman song “Pataka Guddi” from the film Highway. She also sang “Chikni Chameli” from the film Agneepath and many others. This was her first time in the U.S. and Iyer said she was thankful that God put her in Times Square– “Every artist’s dream venue.”
“Since last couple of years, most of my friends spoke about Diwali at Times Square and I was silently hoping and praying that one day I will get to stand here and perform for the beautiful audience that usually shows up every year and it came like a dream come true,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful feeling; I am just so overwhelmed with the positivity. Every person who is involved with Diwali at Times Square is here for a unique reason and I am happy to be a part of this celebration,” Iyer added.
Raman Mahadevan also performed at the event and sang his songs “Kholo Kholo” from the film Taare Zameen Par, “Heyy Babyy” from the film Heyy Babyy and “Rock On” from the film Rock On, along with A.R. Rahman’s famous song “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from the film Dil Se. Sparsh Shah, the 13-year-old boy who has brittle bone disease and has won millions of hearts already with his voice, sang “Not Afraid” by Eminem and “Bezubaan” from the film ABCD as well as a Ganesha Vandana at the beginning of the show.
The event ended with digital fireworks which were projected on the same screen as the diya lighting countdown.