Sweet celebration: Sydney’s ‘little India’ lights up as crowds turn out for Diwali

To Ambika Suri, Harris Park in Sydney’s west has become something of a haven, somewhere to feel connected to her community, particularly during Diwali.

“We feel at home here, we feel satisfied. Because we are away from our family, Harris Park brings us closer to our community. We miss our family a lot, and coming here makes us feel close to India.”

Suri is in the western Sydney suburb – dubbed little India – for the first day of the Diwali, the traditional “festival of lights”. This is where Hindus and Sikhs light candles and oil lamps to illuminate their homes. They celebrate light over darkness.

The five-day festival is a chance for families and friends to dress in their best clothes, come together and exchange gifts and sweets.

The streets of Harris Park are buzzing. Residents and visitors crisscross streets in their sherwanis and saris, grabbing food for their families and meeting friends.

Lights dance across shop fronts and Punjabi music blasts from cars in traffic, an atmosphere Suri and her family relish.

“Its a real vibe, that is what India is about, it’s where you can sit, eat and party, enjoy good music, and we can hear the cars with the music. And our community has changed a lot in the last two years,” she says.

Suri is talking about the growth in the population of the Indian diaspora in Australia, with the latest census result showing India has become the third largest country of birth for residents, behind England and Australia.

By August 2021, 673,352 had reported India as their country of birth, an increase of 220,000 since 2016.

It’s a surging community, and the festival’s growth in prominence in Sydney has seen it cement itself on the city’s cultural calendar.

Mahek Rana compares the festival to the Muslim celebration of Eid.

“More people come here now, it’s far less taboo. People come for the food and the celebrations.”

“We pray and we eat good food. It’s like Eid. It’s just a day to be happy, and to think about new beginnings. Basically, it’s like Indian New Year’s,” she says.

To Aditeya Lochan, the popularity of Harris Park during Diwali reflects how it has transformed into “little India”.

“When you walk around here, it feels like you’re in India, you have people coming around in cars, blasting Punjabi music. It’s got that kind of vibe to it, especially during Diwali.

The festival has become a boon for businesses in the area, with one restaurant telling the Guardian their profits double during Diwali.

“Its a huge bump for us, it’s double,” says Virinder Ghangas, the owner of popular restaurant Yashasa, which serves Paan and desserts.

“A lot of people come out for Diwali… Our community is growing, people are working hard and growing their business. It feels good to see.

“There has been so much change in the past couple of years. There used to be one or two Indian restaurants here, and now 95% of them are Indian,” he says.

As night falls, restaurants along Marion and Wigram streets begin lighting candles, marking the opening of the festival.

At La Jawab, a popular sweet and vegetarian restaurant, owner Manoj Menda says it is like “lighting his own little kingdom”.

“It’s a festival of lights – the candles signify light, it’s the victory of good over evil. To celebrate that victory, we used to light up whole towns and villages. Now we light up our businesses, homes, even our lives.”

“We wish everybody prosperity, success, happiness. And for business, it’s the same thing. We want prosperity. We want business to flourish. We want people to be happy in their life,” he said.

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