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De Blasio and McCray host Diwali celebration at Gracie Mansion

The Hindu Student Association, an on-campus Baruch College club, was once again invited by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to the Gracie Mansion for its annual Diwali celebration on Nov. 20.

Diwali is the largest festival in Hindu culture, well-known for its bright lights and spiritual luminance, occurring on the night of the new moon — the darkest night of the year — while diyas, or oil lamps, candles and lanterns combat the darkness of the world.

Since its inception in 2013, HSA has gradually grown in popularity, holding award-winning events along the way, such as “Holi On the Plaza,” which has been featured multiple times on Snapchat’s New York City story.

Irine Thomas, president of Baruch’s HSA, noted that her club is known for “throwing a celebration for Diwali, the festival of lights, every year for the past six years,” and had previously sent a few members to de Blasio’s annual celebration.

The five days of Diwali celebration begin on the 13th day of the dark half of the Hindu month of Ashvina, usually falling out in late October some years or early November in others. Each of the days has its own respective traditions, but they all share a common theme of the triumph of good over evil, light over darkness and a celebration of unity.

Diwali extends its reach well beyond Hinduism, as it is also embraced and celebrated by Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, essentially marking itself as one of the most celebrated spiritual holidays in the Asian continent and in the world.

De Blasio’s tradition of holding a Diwali party for New York City’s celebrating population — around a quarter of a million people — attests to the global importance and reach of Diwali.

The celebration at Gracie Mansion was decorated deliberately with vibrancy and brightness that rivaled the equally colorful sarees that some women donned while they strolled into the event hall. Upon entering, waiting staff offered people samosas, pakoras and other traditional appetizers, as well as various Indian beer and liquors, while a traditional henna table was set up nearby.

As a Hindu priest took the stage, crowds gathered around, gravitating to him as he led an invocation asking for blessings for the celebration and inviting de Blasio and Chirlane McCray, de Blasio’s wife, to light the diya, signifying purity and the triumph of light over darkness and evil forces.

After the lighting ceremony, McCray spoke to the crowd about people in New York City suffering from mental illness who are overcoming the issue on their own, a cornerstone of her free mental health first-aid campaign.

Utilizing principles of unity from Diwali, she stressed that combating these issues would be easier if people unified, noting that New York City “is stronger when we come together.”

As de Blasio stepped onto the podium, he acknowledged the newly elected counsel to the mayor, Kapil Longani, a son of Indian immigrants, welcoming athundering applause.

De Blasio then went on to speak about the meaning of Diwali and its importance in New York City and the United States. Rather than it being “only about the beautiful lights and decorations,” de Blasio clarified that Diwali is “about something much more powerful.” He pleaded to the crowd to reflect on the state of the country today and how politicians in Washington can benefit from the lessons that Diwali teaches. “Wisdom should outshine ignorance. Unity should outshine division. It’s true in New York City, it’s true in all fifty states and it’s true in Washington D.C.,” he said.

To close his speech, de Blasio focused on the power of diversity and immigration in New York City, and how Diwali represents that perfectly — as it brings together people from different faiths, and those from different regions such as South Asia, the Caribbean and more.

To celebrate the success that immigrants have brought to communities, the mayor welcomed the Indian-born activist and television star Padma Lakshmi — featured in Top Chef and Star Trek: Enterprise — to the stage for a formal recognition. He proclaimed Nov. 20 as Padma Lakshmi Day in New York City.

Eventgoers then retreated to the dance floor and danced to music with family members at their sides, sarees swinging and joyful smiles filling the Gracie Mansion.

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