Festival of Lights lights up City of Lights

Indian Consul O P Meena lighting the lamp when the  Gayatri Mantra was recited.

Indian Consul O P Meena lighting the lamp when the Gayatri Mantra was recited.

AURORA: Over 5,500 people attended the 3rd Diwali celebrations organized by the City of Aurora’s Indian American Outreach Advisory Board (IACOAB) at Waubonsie Valley High School on Saturday Oct 22.

Among the dignitaries who attended the event were US Congressman Bill Foster, Acting Indian Consul General O P Meena, outgoing Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, Illinois State Rep Stephanie Kifowit, Democratic Congressional candidate for the 8th district, Illinois Raja Krishnamoorthi, Lt Commander Keith Cross of the Aurora Police, Rick Guzman, Assistant Chief of Staff to the Aurora Mayor, Dr. Gopal Lalmalani, President of the Village of Oak Brook, Dr. Siva Sivananthan CEO of Sivananthan Laboratories and Aurora Aldermen Rick Mervine.

As the members of the audience started trickling in, they were greeted with a scintillating video presentation of India’s diverse cultures and faiths, prepared by Jassi Parmar of Desi Junction, who was the EMCEE for the evening.

Jassi held the event together with his wit, interactive sessions with the audience, and sheer joie de vivre.
The event kicked off with lighting of the traditional lamp while Prasad Garkhedar recited the Gayatri Mantra from the Rig Veda. This was followed by the American national anthem sung by Avni Limdi (student at Neuqua Valley High School) and the Indian national anthem rendered by Ajai Kumar, as the respective flags were projected on the screen.

Half-way through the performances, all elected officials and dignitaries were invited on stage by Gautam Bhatia & Sharon Garcia and honored with shawls (scarfs) as a traditional Indian mark of respect by IACOAB board members. Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner and his wife were given gifts as a gesture of gratitude for the mayor’s service to the city’s growth. Gautam Bhatia, Chairman of IACOAB, said that the board owed a debt of gratitude to Mayor Weisner, Rick Guzman and Ald. Rick Mervine for their support in the formation and growth of the board. Others dignitaries were honored with a memento and a shawl.

Gautam Bhatia and Roopa Anjanappa (Cultural Committee Chair) welcomed the guests with a brief history of the board and its agenda. Gautam thanked all volunteers and the Board members for making the event a resounding success. Roopa said that the board had incorporated improvements in the celebrationas a result of feedback received from past events.

Kunal Majmundar (Treasurer), Deepak Mehta (Secretary) and Girish Kapoor (Media and Public Relations), thanked the sponsors & media partners without whose support the event would not have been possible on such a large scale. Shabbir Shikora (Vice Chairman) and Anupama Setty (Cultural Committee) introduced “Varkatunda” which is an invocation to Lord Ganesha performed by Odissi dance center.

Other performances including those from the groups Bolly Mix and Bollywood Medley and a vigorous ‘Bhangra’ got an enthusiastic response from the packed hall. At Jassi’s invitation, all the dignitaries including Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner, his assistant Rick Guzman and Alderman Rick Mervine did an impromptu Bhangra on the stage to the delighted cheers of the audience.

The presence of several stalls of Indian cuisine, apparel, craft and jewelry ensured that the visitors had ample opportunity to engage in the festive mood of eating and shopping.

The evening concluded with a colorful display of fireworks which brought a tinge of nostalgia to Indian Americans who recalled the robust Diwali celebrations they enjoyed growing up in India.

The IACOAB is a volunteer group of the City of Aurora which acts as a liaison between the city and the community. Past events have included public awareness and civic education featuring the Aurora police chief and civic and library officials to make the public aware of the working of the city, police and library.

The IACOAB members are Gautam Bhatia (Chairman), Shabbir Shikora (Vice Chairman), Deepak Mehta (Secretary), Kunal Majmundar (Treasurer), Anupama Setty, Ashok Easwaran, Girish Kapoor, Niveditta Ahuja, Prasad Garkhedkar, Roopa Anajanappa, Sanjeev Pandey and Sharon Garcia.

Ashok Easwaran & Madhu Patel

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