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A Joyful Journey: Bringing Community to Las Colinas With a Festival of Lights

“Diwali is not a festival — it’s an emotion,” explains Lavanya Swaminathan, AVP Oracle Application Development in Las Colinas. “Anyone who grew up in India can confirm that in the days and weeks leading up to it, a mood and excitement sets in.”

Known as the “festival of lights,” Diwali (from the Sanskrit word dipavali) is the biggest annual holiday in India, named for the clay lamps displayed to celebrate the event for more than 2,500 years. Although primarily associated with the Hindu religion, Diwali is also observed in other many traditions, including Jainism, Sikhism and Buddhism, in India and several countries around the world. The length of the festival and customs associated with Diwali vary by region, but participants gather for the same reason: to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness.

Childhood memories

“When you say the word ‘Diwali,’ you can see the sparkle in the eyes and smiles on the faces of anyone who celebrates,” says Surya Bulusu, VP Global Software Solutions. “It evokes so many memories from childhood. As kids, the excitement builds for a month or two before the event, and the whole city is lit up. It is a festive and happy air, similar to Christmas.”

Pradeep Vayalali, AVP Corporate Business Systems, agrees: “As a child, we would get up early in the morning to light firecrackers, then later go to the temple to pray. Our relatives would join for a lunchtime feast, almost like Thanksgiving in the United States. Once evening comes, the entire city is lit up. We exchange gifts and homemade sweets with family and neighbors and then set off more fireworks later that night.”

Lavanya also remembers the firecrackers at sunrise that the kids gathered to light, the traditional clothing, the wide variety of sweets made by aunts and grandmothers, and the abundance of lights and music in the neighborhood where she grew up.

“The vibe of the entire community is so positive,” she says. “The way it feels here in the U.S. during holiday times. It’s a time for friends, family and community to come together to celebrate.”

Bringing Diwali to North Texas

Their love for Diwali led Lavanya, Surya and Pradeep to spearhead a celebration at the Las Colinas campus of GM Financial. Surya remembers the first event, eight years ago, being held in their breakroom as a potluck with just 20 people.

“Everyone was super excited about it, and many people were curious to know more,” Surya explains. “They wanted an invite, so the next year we upped the ante to budget for something a little bigger and booked an outside gazebo. We decorated like we would back home, with color and lights and flowers.”

Pradeep has overseen decorations for the event since joining the team. Every year, the committee chooses a new theme and organizes a group of volunteers early on the day of the event to set up the designs of flowers and colored powders. Lavanya leads food planning, which she describes as a “tasting spree” to select dishes that will be catered.

Last year, the event drew more than 200 guests, almost back to their pre-pandemic height of 300. The festivities are arranged by a group of just seven, with the assistance of about 25 volunteers on the day of the event. In addition to a variety of traditional food (and sweets), they also have a traditional henna artist and dance instruction.

The event is moving from Las Colinas to the Operations Center in Arlington this year to allow for a larger scale celebration. The team hopes that — budget permitting — the event continues to grow and may eventually be celebrated companywide.

For those lucky enough to get an invitation, Pradeep has some advice: “Come with an open mind and an empty stomach. If you dress up and have an adventurous palette, the rest will come naturally.”

Jessica Llanes
By Jessica Llanes, Cadillac Financial

Jessica Llanes is an off-road adventurer, EV enthusiast and bon vivant raised in New Orleans. When she’s not traveling, she enjoys sharing a homecooked meal with friends, curling up with an Agatha Christie novel, or binge-watching classic episodes of Top Gear (or Top Chef).

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