People stood outside on a mild November 5 evening lifting up signs, chanting. No, they weren't there to express the struggle of the middle class, or to protest unfair, corporate America. These people were trying to get the crowd to eat their Paneer Tikka Rolls-a popular Indian dish. The Cotton Bowl was home to the Sixth Annual Diwali Mela that night, where thousands gathered to celebrate the Hindu "festival of lights." The celebration is presented by the Dallas-Fort Worth Indian Cultural Society.
Chat Ganesh, a coordinator of Diwali Mela, says the crowds at the festival have grown exponentially with each year. The event, which in past years was held in Texas Stadium (and then Cowboys Stadium), has been a cultural flocking point for Indian communities from all over Texas and surrounding states since its inception in 2006, says Ganesh. But it wasn't always like that. He says the celebration used to take place in the backyard of the DFWICS' president's home.
Saturday's festivities, however, took place held across a much larger area nestled in Fair Park. The air was ripe with the scent of masala. Crowds clustered in front of the rows of vendors selling throngs of food, jewelry and traditional Indian clothing. Children ran up to play with clowns performing slap-stick routines. People anxiously lined up for elephant and camel rides.
DVDs of Bollywood films covered two tables under the New Singapore Emporium tent. Deepak Shani helps run a store that sells a variety of Indian commodities including Bollywood flicks. This was Shani's first to Diwali Dallas, his first visit to Texas, in fact. Shani's store is in New York. He says he heard the buzz about the Diwali celebration in Dallas and decided to pack up a moving truck full of movies and give it a try.
Shani wasn't the only one from out of town. Marjit Singh, owner of artwork retail shop Art By Unique Design, brought opulent Indian art and frames from Georgia. Early in the evening, Singh paced back and forth under his tent, a turban on his head and his hands clutched behind his back as he examined the scantily sized crowd wandering by. Bryan Charles, a light-skinned young man wearing a red sweatshirt and plaid shorts, neatly positioned paintings.
"This was a bad idea," Sing said, as he watched people trickle in and out of his tent.
"I told you, it's a night event," Charles replied.
Charles helps Singh manage his store back in Georgia and he says they have come to Diwali Dallas in past years. He says it's cool to see vendors come from all over the country to be at the festival.
While working for Singh over the years, Charles learned of the art dealer's past before he arrived in the United States. In India, Singh ran a successful restaurant business with his family. He had to flee to the U.S., suddenly, after the Taliban killed several of his family members. He came over with just $20 to his name. Today, Singh runs his own business.
As night rolled on, people poured into lit up the square in front of the stadium and the scene at Singh and Charles' tent quickly changed. More and more visitors walked away holding paintings and Singh strutted around with a subtle, satisfied grin on his face.
It seems that as the sunlight went down, the Festival of Lights truly picked up speed for patrons and vendors alike.