Lanterns were strewn across trees, drum beats infused the crowd with rhythmic sways and foot taps, and the scintillating scent of turmeric, cardamom, and cumin wafted through the soft breeze at La Villita, fostering a sense of carefree excitement that lasted well beyond nightfall.

Thousands of locals and visitors flocked to one of San Antonio’s most historic locales to celebrate the culture, traditions, and rituals of the city’s vibrant Indian population in the eighth installment of Diwali San Antonio – Festival of Lights.

The City’s Department of Arts and Culture and International Relations Office collaborated with Anuja San Antonio, a nonprofit created in 2011 to promote San Antonio’s Sister Cities International relationship Chennai, India, to organize the festival which over the years has become one of San Antonio’s most beloved displays of culture and heritage. While two City departments helped fund, organize, and promote the event through the Sister Cities Cultural Engagement Fund, the Center City Development & Operations Department provided the space for Diwali.

Diwali, traditionally celebrated on Oct. 30, is the Hindu festival of lights that spiritually honors the victory of good over evil, light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.

In a time when doubt and unease over discouraging political discourse and social injustices permeate populations across the globe, Diwali provided a much needed serving of human radiance and lightheartedness.

The man-made beauty on display in the form of colorful and meticulously embellished costumes, energetic dances and exhilarating music, decadent traditional cuisine, and an array of Indian goods – jewelry, garments, instruments, and decorations – gave a glimpse into a culture that has been shaped by its millenia-old history and its wide array of subcultures. Its vibrance effects a profound impact on any other culture it blends with, and San Antonio is one of its many beneficiaries.

Mayor Ivy Taylor, clad in a colorful sari, mingled with young children, and Councilmen Alan Warrick (D2) and Roberto Treviño (D1), also in a traditional achkan, enjoyed the dance performances from up close, as thousands of people of all ages ate, drank, danced, or got henna painted on their hands.

The dance performances and music on the stages at the Arneson River Theatre – which a mere week ago hosted mariachis for Día de Muertos festivities – and the Nueva Street Main Stage were presented by a variety of Indian organizations in San Antonio, and were emblematic of various Indian states.

One of the highlights of the night was the Diya, or floating candle, ceremony where participants released more than 1,000 candles into the San Antonio River, setting one of San Antonio’s most iconic landmarks aglow.

“Another successful Diwali!” said Suhail Arastu, Musical Bridges Around the World development director and emcee. He added that the festival “has grown attendance from local to statewide.”

Musical Bridges Around the World Musical DIrector Suhail Arastu introduces the performances.
Musical Bridges Around the World Musical Director of Development and Emcee Suhail Arastu introduces the performances. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

The evening culminated with a firework show that adhered to the night’s overall theme of colors, lights, and carefree fun – something so many San Antonians, regardless of their background or heritage, value and enjoy.

Hanna Oberhofer

Before moving to San Antonio in 2004, Hanna was a competitive rhythmic gymnast in her native Austria. She earned degrees from St. Mary’s University and the Texas State Graduate College before joining...

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone

Kathryn Boyd-Batstone is a California native and a graduate of the University of Oregon. She moved to San Antonio in December 2015 to join The Rivard Report team as photographer and videographer.