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Miami Valley Celebrates: Diwali at the India Club of Greater Dayton

Diwali 2023
J. Reynolds
/
WYSO
Diwali 2023

The India Club of Greater Dayton has been hosting an annual Diwali party for decades, and this year's celebration was one of its biggest yet...

Dayton has a growing Indian community, and Diwali is the biggest holiday of the year for most of them.

Inder Chandra, who grew up in New Delhi, said the celebration back in India is something to see, with fireworks and candy and gift-giving.

“It’s the Fourth of July and Christmas all mixed together,” she said. “That's Diwali.”

Diwali has spread across the globe, with people of different faiths celebrating this festival of lights. But it does have religious roots and remains a spiritual holiday for millions. For many, it celebrates Lord Rama’s return from exile to claim his kingdom.

J. Reynolds
/
WYSO
A performer preparing backstage at the India Club's 2023 Diwali party.

“The religious aspect is Lord Rama,” said Suresh Chandra, Inder’s husband. “He had been exiled out of the country. He, his wife, and his younger brother met this evil king, Ravana, and Ravana abducted Rama's wife. So, there was a war. Lord Rama was helped by a bunch of animals—armies of monkeys and bears and other animals—and the evil king was killed by Rama. After the victory, all of them came back.”

That return launches perhaps the biggest homecoming party ever.

“A welcome celebration for Rama,” Inder said. “All the houses were lit. People were happy. They were dancing, and the real king has returned.”

And dancing is still a big part of the celebrations, especially at the India Club of Greater Dayton's Diwali party. They have classical, folk, and modern dances, like Bollywood.

“It's so nice that we teach the kids here how to keep the culture going,” Inder said. “That's important.”

Children dancing on stage at the India Club's 2023 Diwali celebration.
J. Reynolds
/
WYSO
Children perform a dance routine.

The party has hours of choreographed dance, and there are dancers of all ages. Ananyha Anandrha is one of the younger dancers.

“It's fun because you get to hang out with your friends and also learn to dance together,” she said. “Not a song in English, but in our language. It's more fun that way.”

Learning the dances isn’t always easy.

“Sometimes it's confusing and you get mad at each other when things don't go your way,” said Deetya Kumar, “but it also feels good because it's part of my culture.”

India Club of Greater Dayton President Puneeta Aggarval said they try to have a great variety of songs and languages at their annual Diwali celebration to reflect the diverse Indian-American community in the Miami Valley.

“We try to bring one dance from each state,” she said, “so that kids learn the diversity. They speak different languages, and the songs are also in different languages, not just Hindi. There are Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Bengali… apart from the national language, which is Hindi.”

J. Reynolds
/
WYSO
Dancers gather for a photo before going on stage.

Aggarval said the club started over 50 years ago with just a few families.

“They felt the need—that their kids needed to learn Hindi,” she said. “The need to wear Indian outfits and get together. So they started it from their home and then they started teaching kids how to dance. Then, they started gathering in the temple basement of a temple. That's how it grew. And now every year, we take new people who are enthusiastic and love to do volunteer work, and that it's all volunteer based.”

Volunteer work is a focus for the India Club, and they give out awards for exceptional service at their Diwali celebration. They’re also seeing their population change over time, as Karthik Jeeva notes.

“Ten years ago, it was all doctors,” he said. “And now we are seeing a lot of information technology professionals coming in, and the second generation people, all the kids, my kids. Everybody is getting involved in the community. That is why we want to grow more and more because this is the place where we want to live.”

J. Reynolds
/
WYSO
Diwali is multigenerational and multicultural.

Jeeva says Diwali is a holiday for all generations but one that resonates with some of today’s younger generations because of its focus on good mental health.

"Diwali is like: you're down. It's okay. Bring back the cheer in your life. That’s what Diwali is, bringing light where there is darkness.”

And Jeeva said there’s a lot of light at this year’s celebration, as the Indian population in Dayton continues to flourish.

J. Reynolds
/
WYSO

Miami Valley Celebrates is produced at The Eichelberger Center For Community Voices At WYSO. If there’s a celebration you think we should cover next, please let us know.

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