Fireworks exploded overhead as the 10-headed demon god Ravana burst into flames Satuday night at Texas Stadium. OK, fine, so it was only a 32-foot-tall effigy of the dark lord, but, still, it was the grand finale and culmination of the eight-hour-long Diwali Mela celebrating the victory of good over evil by remembering the symbolic defeat of the demon king at the hands of Lord Rama.
Speaking of triumphing over evil, Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Light, also marks the start of a new financial year -- 'bout time -- and Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity and wealth, has a significant role in the festival as devotees seek her blessings for the coming year. Guess it makes sense then that an estimated 60,000 people attended Saturday’s Mela, which was presented for the third year by DFW Indian Cultural Society.
With the puppet shows, dance troupes, live music, long lines and fried foods, the festival was a bit like the State Fair of Texas on closing day -- if Big Tex were a giant demon set on fire at night's end, which, come to think of it ... And, really, one booth at the Mela even served funnel cakes. Check out our slide show here. More on the festival after the jump.
Hundreds of vendors sold everything from spices, sandals and saris to Ganesh fountains, statues and ballpoint pens. Course, it was always most crowded around the food vendors.
Restaurants and caterers from around the Metroplex offered up their versions of popular Indian dishes. Samosas and naan weren’t hard to find (nearly every booth was selling them), but getting your hands on a cup of mango lassi proved impossible for most, because by 8 p.m. every vendor had sold out.
Entirely worth the 15 minute wait and the $5 a plate, the chana bhatura offered by Fort Worth’s Maharaja Indian Restaurant and Bar was absolutely amazing. The puffy, fried bread perfectly complemented the spiciness of the chickpeas.
Hey, and how about that demon god?
“They built it, and we’re burnin’ it,” Charles Cook said with a wide grin as he explained the myriad pyrotechnic devices packed into the Ravana’s hollow body. Approaching the giant, well-dressed effigy, a powerful, unmistakable smell wafted on the breeze: diesel fuel. After rigging all the fireworks and screaming missiles, Cook and fellow Lonestar Fireworks Production co-owner Jim Bittle doused the demon king from the waist down with diesel. “This thing’s gonna go up in flames and it’s gonna howl and scream as it burns,” Cook said. (Naturally, the whole show was approved and supervised by the Irving Fire Department.)
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And burn it did. At a quarter to midnight, Ravana was engulfed in flames, his 10 heads exploding one by one. It was quite a sight, and definitely unforgettable. But this was my first Diwali, and I wondered how this Mela stacked up.
“Actually, I just moved here from India six months ago, and I had heard a lot about the festival here, so my expectations were very high,” Anil Jain said as he and some friends wandered the parking lot searching for their car. As they discussed the festival, one of his friends commented about the lack of trash cans at such a crowded event. Huge mounds of Styrofoam plates and cups were piled knee deep around some of the overflowing trash cans. Just imagine the party you could have setting those on fire.
Other than the disappointment with the lack of planning for the huge attendance, how did Jain and his friends feel about this Diwali? “It was all right. The shows were good, but the best part was the dancing,” Jain said. He was not talking about the traditional shows put on by local dance troupes, but about an impromptu, full-on-rave-a-thon that broke out by one of the vendor’s booths. At about 11 p.m., a crowd of about 200 people gathered in front a booth selling CDs, and, as music blared from booth’s speakers, the lively crowd started cheering, jumping and dancing around.
It’s hard for me admit, because seeing ol’ Ravana burn was unforgettable, but really, the one image that stuck after my first Diwali was the joy and bliss I saw in that crowd of dancers. Maybe next year, if they can get the fire marshal’s approval, they can incorporate the burning of Ravana with a dance. And while they’re at it, a few more trash cans wouldn’t hurt. --Daniel Rodrigue