A Texas-sized Diwali for a Texas-sized Crowd Makes History

Click here for Photo Collage

By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: Texas’ largest Diwali celebration got a Texas-sized endorsement when governor Greg Abbott addressed the packed audience at the Skeeters Constellation Stadium last Saturday night, October 20.

Saying that the Governor’s mansion in Austin has celebrated Diwali privately with representatives and supporters of the Indian community for the past four years he has been in office, Abbott spoke about the lessons of Diwali – victory of good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, hope over despair – which are transcending values that have helped him also to overcome the tragedy that left him in a wheelchair.

The Governor’s attendance and speech on center stage was the pinnacle of the day-long Dusserah and Diwali celebration that has been held at the Skeeters Stadium for the seventh year. Each year the crowds coming to the event have grown bigger, which, this year were estimated to be over 10,000. Representatives of the consulates of India, Indonesia, Brazil, Republic of China and Mexico also joined in the celebrations. And though the function is apolitical, it also allowed many of the contenders for elections next month to be presented onstage, including Democratic challenger for District 22, Sri Preston Kulkarni. US Congressman Al Green also made a brief visit to give a Congressional Award.SITA-RAM_IN02
And each year, the celebration has added more elements and included other parts of the community. Organizers have sought out ideas to make the event for diverse, starting with the parade around the stadium four years ago which showcases not only the different religious floats but also other organizations like the Ismaili Muslim Girl Scouts Troop and depicted Indian culture, heritage and scenes from Indian History. Two Sikh dhol drummers led the procession of 45 groups and Republican US Congressman Pete Olson who represents District 22 was the Parade Marshal, waving the Indian flag. The Wells Fargo stagecoach majestically pulled by four horses followed by the Jagganath Chariot by the Orissa Culture Center concluded the spectacular parade.


Stalls of the 70 vendors on the Concourse formed a Big Bazaar that was thronged with people who had to elbow their way through, reminiscent of a Sadar Bazaar atmosphere in India. The half-a-dozen food court vendors did a rip-roaring business as people stood in long lines to get their orders. And the Sikh dhol players made a deafening commotion at the entrance where young volunteers placed a tilak on the forehead of entrants and gave them sweets before they turned around and took selfies with a giant and colorful statue of Ganesh behind them.

Constellation field was a visual delight with effigies of demons on one hand; a beautiful temple to Lord Ram decorated with 6-foot high elephants on either side in the center field; and a towering 25-foot high inflatable replica of Hanuman on the other side. The huge concert style stage built on 2nd base with large LED screens held everyone’s attention, where a number of stage performances continued from 5 pm onwards.

Children dressed up as inspirational characters from Indian history participated in a costume contest. Houston’s best dance schools performed dances in the spirit of Diwali-Dusserah. Mesmerizing performances such as Brides of India, 10 Vishnus, Egyptian Spiritual Dance by a Tanoura dancer, an action-packed Ram Leela Yuddh Kand and an eight minute Ramayan dance kept audience captivated. A helicopter showered rose petals to coronate Lord Ram and conclude the stage performances.  

Priest from different temples in Houston together performed Maha Aarti, the final prayers to conclude the event; a ritual to worship, glorify and thank Lord Ram for the celebrations and for the well-being of all living beings in the world. Thousands at the stadium switched on their cellphone flash lights while kids switched on their finger lights given earlier and participated silently in the Maha Aarti.

This was the mela that the event’s visionaries, Dr. Arun and Vini Verma of the Shri Sita Ram Foundation had imagined when they conceived the event in 2011. Central to it, of course, is a short depiction of the Ram Leela played out on the stage in the center of the ballfield and, at the end, the burning of effigies of Ravana and his two brothers and a massive fireworks display which can be seen for miles around.

This year’s celebration was particularly satisfying for the Shri Sita Ram Foundation as it has garnered headlines from media outlets around the world. The SSRF is a non-profit that is engaged in promoting Vedic culture; and provides funds to support 30 nonprofit organizations annually, a limited number of scholarships and assists disadvantaged people in the local community.