Dances highlight Diwali festival

Published 10:51 am Thursday, December 4, 2008

It’s a festival that has been a part of Vidhee Patel’s life since she was a small child.

Now, a senior at Fairland High School, Patel will take front and center at this Saturday’s Diwali festival.

“It’s the festival of the lights and basically it is a New Year,” Patel said. “It is called the festival of lights because people have melted butter candles and they put them all over their house. They have lights in the house. It is a Christmas-type of thing.”

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The evening begins with a show of traditional, ancient and more modern Indian dances in colorful native dress with the requisite jewelry.

“There are several dancers from little kids to adults and there are many Bollywood dances and traditional old Indian dances,” Patel said. “Bollywood is the Hollywood of India.”

The stories behind the dances vary depending on the song that accompanies them.

“Some of them are about love. Some are about just having fun,” she said. “We choreograph them ourselves. The steps reflect what is being said in the song. Traditional Indian dances have very specific and strict movements.”

The festival has its roots in a Sanskrit word, deepavali, that means “row of lamps.” It allows participation by young and old and lasts for five days. Before the festival begins, houses and shops are renovated and decorated, most often with the designs of the goddess of properity, called Laksmi.

According to the Diwali festival Web site, “to indicate her long-awaited arrival small footprints are drawn with rice flour and vermilion powder all over the houses. … Believing this day to auspicious women purchase some gold or silver or at least one or two new utensils.”

In the evenings tiny clay candles are lighted to chase away dark spirits and songs are sung in praise of the goddess.

The local Diwali festival is sponsored by the Tri-State India Association. It begins with a program at 5:30 Saturday at Huntington High School, 1 Highlander Way, off Interstate 64. A dinner will be served at 8 p.m. of traditional Indian food. The performance is free but tickets are required for the meal. They are $15 for adults if purchased ahead of time and $18 at the door. Students are $10 and children under 5 are free. For more information, contact Aruna Velury at 606-922-0005 or