Diwali in BC: Bringing Everyone Together

Arno Kamolika in  Shyama . Photo via  Diwali in BC.

Arno Kamolika in Shyama. Photo via Diwali in BC.

Every year in India, people celebrate Diwali, a multi-day celebration with festivities celebrating religion, spirituality, and art. It’s a time of gift-giving, sharing meals, spending time with family and friends, and fireworks – lots of fireworks. For non-South Asians, Diwali is like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s squished into one.

Award-winning Artistic Director Rohit Chokhani is bringing Diwali cheer to British Columbia this year from October 3 to November 17 for the second annual Diwali in BC. Born in Mumbai, Chokhani moved to North America after a vibrant childhood of dancing, performance, and being immersed in India’s artistic culture. Diwali in India, he recollected over a cup of chai, is a time that brings everyone together.

Chokhani founded Diwali in BC in 2017, an inclusive and diverse organization for South Asians in Metro Vancouver who needed a platform in the performing arts. After the success of last year’s Diwali in BC, which had the theme of Shatki – feminine power – Chokhani recognized the need to expand outside of Vancouver’s borders and into more BC communities. This year’s Diwali in BC will feature programming not only in Vancouver, but in Coquitlam, Vernon, Maple Ridge, and Nanaimo. Drawn to global issues, Chokhani says that this year’s Diwali in BC theme is a response to this expansion, and to where we are as a society within the international political landscape. The festival will explore and celebrate Multiculturalism, including South Asian culture, through the theme of ‘New Horizons’ in theatre, dance and culturally-specific workshops for underrepresented artists in Vancouver.

A Vancouver Guldasta . Photo via  Diwali in BC

A Vancouver Guldasta. Photo via Diwali in BC

Programming for this year’s Diwali in BC festival includes topics of identity, trauma, poetry, love, money, power, sex, and classical and contemporary dance and music. Presentations such as A Vancouver Guldasta, Shyama, and The Believers Are But Brothers are some of the works that will represent ‘New Horizons’.

Chokhani believes that Diwali in Canada doesn’t need to replicate Diwali in India, as the artistic and cultural roots of the festival will be the same regardless of where it’s celebrated. “Diwali in BC is not a partisan or denominational festival. We honour the tradition of where Diwali comes from, but the way we share and celebrate needs to be localized for people who live in Canada.”  Diwali in BC takes the artistic concepts prevalent in India’s traditional way of celebrating Diwali, and presents them in an accessible way that showcases Canada’s multiculturalism.

Diwali in Vernon Festival  Poster, featuring the Shiamak Dance Team. via  Diwali in BC.

Diwali in Vernon Festival Poster, featuring the Shiamak Dance Team. via Diwali in BC.

Diwali in BC is a platform that exists for underrepresented groups and artists that are excluded from mainstream performing arts. However, what was once a platform specifically for South Asian artists is now slowly changing, as Chokhani and his team are hoping to bring in more cultures and different artists into future iterations of the festival. For people who have never attended Diwali in BC before, expect to experience a different culture, and be prepared to have conversations about it. Chokhani believes that art is meant to disturb, engage, push boundaries beyond our comfort, and create a conversation – a unique experience for people who have never participated in a South Asian event before.

“As a kid, Diwali for me was visiting family and friends, giving gifts and eating together and sharing a cup of chai. My goal with Diwali BC is to take that experience beyond families and into communities. If two different communities come together over a cup of chai and have a good conversation, that is Diwali.”

Visit www.diwalibc.ca to view this year’s Diwali in BC program.

Project SAT (South Asian Theatre) is a new initiative founded by Rohit Chokhani that is aimed at creating a network for South Asian projects in Canada. Offering support to younger, marginalized South Asian artists within the Metro Vancouver area, Project SAT hosts free workshops on producing, playwriting, dramaturgy and Natyashastra. To learn more about Project SAT and to view the 2018 programming, visit www.projectsat.ca.