PLEASANTON -- One of the Indian-American community's most significant holidays will be celebrated Saturday at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, where thousands of revelers are expected.

They will observe Diwali, a five-day festival that mixes the euphoria of New Year's Day festivities with an emphasis on social justice, said Yogi Chugh, an Indian-American community leader living in Fremont.

"It really is about putting the past year behind you and looking forward to good things ahead," he said. "But it's all in the context of good prevailing over evil."

The traditions of Diwali, known as the "festival of lights," are rooted in ancient India's many legends. One such tale involves Rama, a once-exiled king who defeated his foe and returned to his city, where he was greeted by citizens who celebrated by lighting oil lamps and firecrackers.

Dipashreya Sur, left, and Pooja Solanki, both 10, show off their henna as they wear traditional clothing from northern India during the Diwali festival at
Dipashreya Sur, left, and Pooja Solanki, both 10, show off their henna as they wear traditional clothing from northern India during the Diwali festival at the Fremont Hindu Temple in Fremont on Nov. 6, 2010. (Ray Chavez/Staff file)

To this day, celebrants of Diwali light small lamps and hold firework shows in tribute to the ancient tale of good triumphing over evil.

Hinduism is the dominant religion of India, but South Asians of all faiths observe the holiday, Chugh said.

"You'd be hard-pressed to find an Indian who doesn't celebrate it," he said. "During Diwali, your town in India might come to a screeching halt and, over the past 10 years, it's also grown here in the U.S."

Bay Area cities, including Cupertino and Hayward, held Diwali festivities earlier this month, and another celebration is scheduled for Friday in Sunnyvale.


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"It's becoming much more mainstream than ever before," Chugh said. "I hear that some companies are having Diwali parties in their offices, just like some that exchange Christmas gifts or hold Cinco de Mayo parties every year."

The Pleasanton celebration, featuring music, children's entertainment and several other attractions, will run from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., said Ritu Maheshwari, a festival co-organizer. Last year, about 10,000 people attended the inaugural festival and a similar-size crowd is expected this time at the fairgrounds, Maheshwari said.

Traditional food and drink will be available, as well as booths offering arts and crafts and animal rides. A parade will begin at 5 p.m. Bollywood pop singer Harjeet Mehndi will perform live in a concert beginning at 7 p.m. The evening will culminate in a fireworks show, starting at 8:30 p.m.

The celebration is co-sponsored by the Fremont Hindu Temple and the Federation of Indo-Americans of Northern California, a Fremont-based cultural organization.

Each year, Diwali is observed sometime between mid-October and mid-November. This year, its main day of observance is Nov. 3. But public celebrations have been scheduled on earlier dates, so that those observing the holiday can enjoy small, home gatherings, as well as larger festivities such as the one scheduled Saturday, Maheshwari said.

"Diwali, to me, means the community coming together to celebrate," she said. "I love celebrating it here."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.

IF YOU Go
WHAT: Diwali festival
WHEN: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Alameda County Fairgrounds, 4501 Pleasanton Ave., Pleasanton
ADMISSION: $5. Tickets can be purchased online at www.fiaonline.org, or at the fairgrounds during the festival.
INFO: www.fiaonline.org