First public Diwali Festival Event


NameFirst public Diwali Festivals are held
CityTāmaki Makaurau Auckland, Pōneke Wellington


The Hindu celebration of Diwali takes place around October/November each year. Since 2002, it has been celebrated in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland and Pōneke Wellington with large public festivals supported by local councils and partner organisations and communities.

Prior to the first public Diwali celebrations, the festival was observed by local communities and Indian Associations. In 2002, the Asia New Zealand Foundation (which had been established in 1993 to build understanding of Asia among New Zealanders) initiated public Diwali festivals in Tāmaki Makaurau and Pōneke, following their success in introducing public Lantern Festivals. Working with the two cities’ councils, they delivered celebrations that featured music and dance (both traditional and contemporary, and both local and international performers). It’s estimated that 70,000 people attended during the first year.

The festival did not take place in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but has continued to be staged annually since 2022. Henry Johnson and Guil Figgins have written that, as a major public festival, “Diwali in New Zealand has been transformed from a local religious and cultural festival celebrated by one broad community to an event that has become a mainstream public expression of Indian or South Asian identity.”

This shift has sometimes been criticised “for reducing the festival of lights to a showcase of Indian music and dance — process lampooned as 'Bollywoodising'", but the festivals are also seen as important venues for the expression of changing and growing cultural practice. Ella Kumar, who has volunteered at the festival for over 20 years, has said, "Seeing first-time performers coming through the Diwali festival and later becoming successful entertainers and performers is the best thing about this event".


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Last updated: 7 March 2024 Suggest an Edit


Henry Johnson, 'Asian Festivalscapes: The Festivalization of Asia in the making of Aotearoa/New Zealand', New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, December 2015

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