In a precious moment at a Diwali event on Tuesday night, hundreds of lamps came on all at once to ring in the Hindu Festival of Lights.
Held up high by the guests at the Diwali event organised by NSW Premier Chris Minns, the lamps brought back wonderful memories of the joy they felt as they lit that row of diyas at their thresholds in times gone by.
They lit their (electronic) diyas this time round, with the Premier of their home state, the Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper, the leader of the Opposition Mark Speakman, Treasurer Daniel Mookhey, CEO of Multicultural NSW Joseph LaPosta, a host of elected representatives, and friends in the Indian community.
Yet really, they were celebrating alongside a billion people, as Minister Kamper said.
In his speech, he found alignment with the eternal Diwali spirit of the triumph of good over evil.
“We must nurture this light within our hearts, and renew our commitment to harmony and our desire for peace,” said Mr Kamper.
His carefully picked tribute to Gandhi on the occasion, “May God illumine your hearts so that you can serve not only each other or India but the whole world,” caused the audience to break out in applause.
Premier Minns showed he had done his homework as he began his address with a mention of the “kurta pyjamas and saris” (cue applause emoji).
“The fundamental values of good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance are beautiful values to pass on to the next generation of Australians,” he said.
He also said that the annual Diwali event organised by the Premier’s office is one of the few bipartisan events in the state.
“Diwali may have been a novelty in years gone by,” he went on. “Not anymore. Thanks for allowing us to celebrate as well.”
The event was held at the Museum of Contemporary Art, overlooking Sydney Harbour. Indigenous elder Uncle Michael West, a Gamilaroi man, noted that hundreds of years ago, each night here would have been a Diwali night.
In his Welcome to Country, he described how the nightscape here, “just beyond the Toaster” would have been lit up with flickering campfires through the night.
The ‘tilak’ ritual saw a few hundred video cameras turn on. This involved the community’s much-loved Hindu priest Pt Jatin Bhatt of Sri Mandir Auburn, who placed a tilak (vermillion mark) on the foreheads of the dignitaries present, as a form of blessing. As he recited the shlokas (hymns) of blessing, Pt Jatin Bhatt was symbolically applying tilak on all present on the occasion.
In another wonderful symbolic gesture, Sydney’s BAPS Temple, a regular participant at the NSW Premier’s Diwali event, offered thanks for the privileges in our life by means of an ‘Annakut’ – a massive display of food items. Annakut offers thanks for the food we eat, and is also a prayer for abundance in the future.
Earlier the BAPS kids presented Sanskrit prayers of peace, with English translations.
The Bharatanatyam presentation by the Samskrithi School of Dance was a particular treat, especially the particularly gymnastic arrangement by Vishakha Iyer that she choreographed herself. Her major work for her HSC, she presented it at Callback, the annual showcase by exceptional students in Dance.
MCs Khushaal Vyas and Sonia Sadiq Gandhi brought in the warm and fuzzies as they took the guests through the night.
For many at the gathering, the NSW Premier’s Diwali night was the second celebration of the day, following Melbourne Cup lunch. Yet the race that stops the nation, run just a few hours prior, seemed all but forgotten in the Diwali glow.
Just across from the revellers, the Sydney Opera House bore witness, demure in its solidarity. It chose not to come to the Diwali party this year, its darkened sails suggesting an inward quest for deeper awareness. It seemed to second Minister Kamper’s words of a pledge to renew our commitment to harmony and our desire for peace.