First AAA Diwali: Festival of Lights

A chilly but enthusiastic group attended the very first AAA Diwali Festival Star gazing event on Saturday, Nov. 10 at Riverside Park South.

Photo by Bhaswan Kurra

While it started slow, with just Chirag Upreti, Rajat Pal, myself, my family, a friend of ours and their daughter, it picked up with people coming in at regular intervals despite the chilly weather.

I came dressed in a traditional Indian outfit for men known as sherwani. I told the story of Diwali and the connection to astronomy to the very small audience at the start (but also later to a few others). We also handed out pamphlets describing Diwali and the connection to astronomy. We had an absolutely clear but windy night and saw a beautiful crescent moon, Saturn, Mars and other objects.

Diwali, or Dipawali, is India‘s biggest and most important holiday of the year. The festival gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that Indians light outside their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness.

This festival is as important to Hindus as the Christmas holiday is to Christians. Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith: Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs.

You can read up more on Diwali at AAA Diwali Festival.

We had savories and sweets in the form of the well-known and popular samosa and the juicy and sweet jalebi. Needless to say, by the end of the night, the samosas were all gone! We’ll probably plan on an extra batch or two of samosas for the next time around!

The location for the festival was fantastic with an almost 270 degree view of the sky. We should plan more observing at this location. As a result of the windy, chilly weather, we decided to forego the tablecloths (we were looking to use traditional Indian cloth with vibrant colors and intricate patterns to signify the festival) and micro LED lamps in star patterned luminary bags to symbolize Diwali and its connection with the stars as both the table cloth and micro LEDs would have taken flight!

Photo by Bhaswan Kurra

We had four scopes in all. I had my 6” Nexstar SCT going initially and was joined by Jason Tang a bit later with his Astronomy without Borders 5” Newtonian and afterwards by Faissal Halim with his portable Makustov. Another member named Gina joined us in the last hour bring the total to four. We had a clumping of people around the scopes for a bit to make it seem like we had a mildly serious observing session going. Brian Berg stopped by and as did Elaine Smyth, one of the recent attendees of the astrophotography group.

In addition to some familiar faces from the club, we had several astronomy enthusiasts from the Upper West Side, who were also parents of the public school, PS 199 on W. 70 St show up. I was impressed with the knowledge of some of the younger kids, one of whom started to quiz me on white dwarfs and red giants and asked me to show him where Sirius B was located.

The conversations were lively ranging from oohs and aahs of the details of the craters to be seen on the beautiful crescent moon to Saturn’s rings and is that all we can see of Mars and kept us going. Chirag engaged the small gaggle of enthusiasts showing them the summer triangle and other objects in the sky while Jason showed folks the always exciting but fuzzy Andromeda galaxy through his 5” Newtonian One Sky reflector among other objects. Chirag was very resourceful with spare hand warmers and handed them to the volunteers and kept us from wanting to find someplace warm to go!

Overall, it was a fantastic event. It was nice to see the ecliptic, the moon, Saturn and Mars all line up in a nice arc across the sky. We decided to wrap up a bit earlier than usual due to an earlier permit end time from what was requested. As we hauled our gear slowly back up the steps and to Riverside Drive, we came across a couple of latecomers who were a bit disappointed that they had missed the action.

We did our best to make them feel better and told them about the event happening again next year and to come to other events. Clearly, the event was a success as evidenced by late comers and the continuous stream of people through the 3+ hours we were out in the chilly and windy conditions.