Event also marked group's 30th year

YOUNGSTOWN -- The India Association of Greater Youngstown celebrated India's New Year and 30 years as an organization Saturday at Stambaugh Auditorium, with the celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights.

Association President Rama Behari said the event is important to the Indian community and the group, and is the largest event of the year for both.

"Diwali is an annual event to celebrate the new year, so everyone wears something new," Behari said. Hindus consider it a holiday to bring prosperity to their families, worship their gods and bring happiness and health to all, she added.

More than 100 people came to the celebration, which is determined by the Hindu calendar, but generally falls in October or November.

Dr. Chander Kohli, a founding member of the association and its historian, likened Diwali to Christmas for Christians.

"We get together and celebrate. There's lots of mythology behind it, but we're really here just to have a good time. We're here to get together," he said.

He noted that the group first celebrated Diwali in the Valley in 1976, and has done so every year since then. For the past 22 years it has been held at Stambaugh Auditorium. The association will mark its own official 30-year anniversary Nov. 1.

Behari said Diwali translates in English to "row of lights," It is celebrated all over India, but involves different events in the country's various states. It generally involves a candle, lights or fireworks wherever it takes place, though, she said.

"There's too much turmoil too, so everyone prays for [peace]," Behari said.

Saturday's program started with the lighting of a candle and a traditional hymn, followed by several ethnic dances. Two vendors were set up to sell Indian art, jewelry and saris.

A special performance created for the program called "The Indian Show" consisted of a narration explaining all the states of India, what they're known for and what makes them unique. The passage for each state was followed by at least two people who wore traditional garments of that state, and many included folk dances from that region.

An traditional Indian dinner was served, catered by Saffron Patch of Cleveland.

Ahara Badjatia, association secretary, said the group was hoping to get the community more involved in the future.

"We want Americans and other ethnicities to participate. More and more people are starting to learn about us," Badjatia said.

She said she hopes the association will be able to generate a larger turnout of non-members to events in the future, but said she understood it would take some time.

"We want to be able to share our culture with other people," she said.

The association has 90 members from Youngstown and Warren, but Badjatia said there are about 120 families who participate in events the group sponsors.

Saturday's event, Badjatia said, was open to the public, like most of the events for the Indian Association. Other events include a New Year's Eve party in December, women's lunches, and picnics, among others.

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