Diwali celebrations begin in Toronto

Queen's Park reception described as 'historic'

The festival of lights was set to be brighter this year in Toronto. An inaugural Diwali reception at the Queen’s Park legislature kicked off celebrations this year.

Hindus around the world mark Diwali festivities to signify victory over evil and ignorance. This year, the holiday officially falls on Oct. 21, but Torontonians got an early taste at Queen’s Park on Oct. 10, with politicians given a chance to wade deeper into the growing South Asian community.

Guests watched their steps as the entrance to the legislative dinning hall was brightly decorated with traditional rangoli patterns. At the door, ladies draped in saris applied a dab tilak on guests’ foreheads. The red dye was an auspicious symbol to welcome guests and gave a spirit of “liveliness,” said organizer Prof. Raghu Nayak.

The reception, co-organized by Panorama India and the Consulate General of India, was considered to be a first inside Queen’s Park.

History made

“We have made history tonight,” said Nayak, co-chair of Panorama India, a non-profit umbrella organization for Indian cultural associations in the Greater Toronto Area. “This is the first time we’ve celebrated Diwali at the Ontario Legislature and it is a proud day for all Indo-Canadians.”

The festival in Toronto is usually celebrated at homes or at the community level in rented banquet halls with the lighting of lamps. The Queen’s Park celebration meant Diwali was now entering the club of big Toronto holidays.

“We want to take Diwali mainstream and we did,” Nayak said in an interview. “There are close to half a million South Asians in Toronto.”

Diwali was also celebrated by Hindus who have migrated from the Car-ibbean and Africa.

Still, he was hinting at the political significance of the communities from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal, which form South Asia.

Political significance

The political heads were present, tasting Indian sweets, eager to build bridges with community ahead of next year’s provincial elections. Premier Dalton McGuinty was quick to deliver the first jab of the night.

After announcing his trade mission to South Asia in January, McGuinty said he had to make sure his trip was on budget or the opposition would cry foul. Looking jokingly toward the audience he said: “If you have any family in India let them know, Terri [his wife] and I won’t take-up much room.”

Opposition leader John Tory didn’t waste any time reminding the guests of his South Asian tour last winter. It took nearly six months for his wife, Barbara, to master dressing herself in the sari, he said. “Now I know why women travel in bunches to the washroom.”

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