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Sunnyvale Library Celebrates Hindu Festival of Lights

“Namaste! I bow to the divine in you,” said more than a dozen colorfully-costumed Indian dancers from the Pampa Dance Academy in Sunnyvale. “Happy Diwali!”

Their hands cupped together in front of them prayerfully, the dancers saluted the audience at Sunnyvale Library’s first community celebration of Diwali — the Hindu Festival of Lights.

“We’ve noticed that there are a lot of Indian people in the community — people who celebrate Diwali,” said Sunnyvale Librarian Thomas Fassett. “We’re trying to embrace the diversity that we have.”

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Sunnyvale resident Srugana Ontipenta and her two daughters attended the free celebration, held at Sunnyvale Community Center’s Orchard Pavilion on Oct. 19.

Ontipenta explained that Diwali is one of many Hindu celebrations. It celebrates the victory of good over evil, of light over darkness.

In one story, King Rama, the human incarnation of the god Vishnu, returned to his people victorious after a years-long battle against the evil king of demons.

“The main idea is that he went through a lot and survived,” said Ontipenta. “God won with great difficulty. In the end, like in Christianity, god is as a human.”

“The story teaches my children that good will prevail over evil, but it takes effort,” continued Ontipenta. “When you go through difficulties, it’s not like god hates you. It’s a test that even a god has to go through. God himself has gone through difficulties.”

Parents helped their children as they painted “diyas” — small clay lamps to fill with oil and to light. Women and girls waited in line to have their hands decorated with henna—a reddish-brown dye made from a plant — by artists from Henna Creationz.

Dancers from Shri Krupa Dance Company and the Carnatic Ensemble — violinists Aparna Thyagarajan and Vignesh Thyagarajan and percussionist Pranav Tirumalai — also entertained the families with classical Indian dance and music.

“We’re really excited about being able to welcome all our dancers and musicians and make connections with our entire community,” said Sunnyvale Supervising Librarian Chaunacey Dunklee. “We appreciate a grant from California Humanities that enabled us to do this.”

The date for Diwali, which is a holiday in India, varies as it is determined by the Hindu lunar calendar. For most in India and the Bay Area, Diwali begins this year on Oct. 27 and lasts five days, with a special focus each day. The main celebration on Oct. 30 honors the connection between husband and wife.

The Festival of Lights doesn’t always illuminate. In 2018, it actually dimmed the Indian capital of Delhi. Despite restrictions on setting off “crackers” (firecrackers) during Diwali, in 2018 illegal firecrackers combined with existing air pollution to blanket the city with a toxic fog.

“The world is at your fingertips at the library,” said Dunklee. “I’m passionate about libraries.

“The library is in a unique position to bring the Sunnyvale community together, to strengthen the community,” Dunklee continued. “Between books, programs, music, movies and conversations, we’re lucky to have the opportunity to expose people to other cultures in positive ways.”

Sunnyvale, with an estimated population of 154,000, has one library. The City of Santa Clara, with a population of about 127,000 has three libraries. Cupertino, population 61,000, is served by one county library. San Jose, with 1.035 million, has a main library shared with San Jose State University and 24 branch libraries.

“Libraries are the people’s university and are free for all. You can come in and learn about everything from computer programs to Indian Dance,” said Dunklee.

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