The focus of Rotorua Deepawali Festival 2011 was Women Empowerment and the festival was planned and organised by young women Diaspora from India, Nepal and Fiji, as well as from New Zealand to send a message on how women can exert a positive influence on society in leadership roles. Hindu Council of New Zealand takes up important social issues every year at the Rotorua Deepawali celebrations.

The festival was held at the Rotorua Convention Centre on Saturday, 1 October 2011. It was inaugurated by Superintendent Wallace Haumaha, General Manager, Maori Pacific and Ethnic Services, Police National Headquarters. Other guests of honour included Mr Grahame Hall, Chairman, Rotorua Trust (one of the major sponsors) and ex-Mayor of Rotorua, Mr Venkat Raman, Editor of the Indian Newslink, Mr Todd McClay, Member of Parliament (MP) for Rotorua representing the Government, Ms Steve Chadwick, List MP representing the Labour Party and Dr Rajendra Prasad, a list MP representing Hindu and ethnic communities. Youth group from Ngati Rangiwewehi gave a Maori welcome to guests during opening ceremony.

Superintendent Haumaha spoke on “Domestic violence is not OK” while Mr Venkat Raman on Women Empowerment quoting Indian women as an example. Indiance dance school from Auckland performed on the same theme.

A musical performance by internationally renowned artists, Samuel J Das (sitar) and Prakash Kandasamy (tabla), from Malaysia was one of the highlights of this year’s festival. In addition, a variety of artists entertained the Rotorua audience.

For the first time, the Rotorua Nepalese community, the Rotorua Malayali Association, and the New Zealand Badaga community participated in the festival. Every year, more and more community groups are coming together for the Rotorua Deepawali in the spirit of understanding and mutual respect, thereby developing and strengthening bonds.

Deepawali in Rotorua has been unique in presenting the best of Hindu and Maori cultures. Involving the local community, especially the Maori community, in the festival has been noticed appreciated by community leaders and also festival organisers in other countries. This year, two representatives from the Malaysian Hindu Sangam participated in the festival to study our festival organisation and our festival themes of highlighting the importance to women, youth development and Hindu-Maori relations. Hindu Council of New Zealand volunteers and the organising committee consider this a big success.

The Hindu Council of New Zealand has been promoting inter-cultural exchanges in arts, culture and heritage. Celebrating Hindu festivals such as Deepawali and Holi on a wider community scale is part of sharing Hindu culture, and a way of encouraging a shared diversity in the community.

A number of pre-events were organised to promote the Rotorua Deepawali Festival. Workshops such as "Indian Art for Kids" and a Rangoli (traditional Hindu art) workshop for adults were held at the Rotorua Arts Village on 27 August 2011 and 17 September 2011, respectively. Holding such art workshops allows all cultures to learn about and participate in Hindu cultural activities.

An essay-writing competition for young writers on the topic ‘Women Empowerment and Society” was held, and the winner was awarded $250 in prize money sponsored by ANZ. The winning article was published in the Rotorua Deepawali Festival 2011 booklet.

In association with the Rotorua Public Library, a display on the theme of Hindu culture was set up on 12 September 2011. The exhibition continued till the day of Deepawali celebrations.

As in previous years, the festival was popular and people came from Auckland, Hamilton, Taupo, Tauranga, Whakatane, Taumarunui, Wellington, Raglan, Te Kuiti, and Opotiki to attend this unique smoke-free, alcohol-free and meat-free family event which is free and open to all.

Workshops such as yoga for women’s health, Indian cooking, kite-making and arts for kids, meditation, contemporary dancing, turban and saree tying were organised. Food and commercial stalls sold vegetarian food, spices, clothing, jewellery, and handicrafts. As in the previous years, the evening cultural show was full and many people were on the waiting list. Some dance groups as well as the international artists made an extra performance during the day time so that people who missed out the evening show were not totally disappointed. The festival finished with a spectacular fireworks show for the Rotorua public at 9.15 pm.

Each year, the festival committee has highlighted a novel feature in organising the Rotorua Deepawali celebrations. In the first year, focus on a smoke-free, alcohol-free and meat-free Deepawali was brought back to New Zealand based Deepawali celebrations in accordance with Hindu cultural practice, sending a strong message of healthy lifestyle to the community. In the second year, Hindu Maori whakawhanangatanga (kinship) was given importance. In 2010, the focus was on youth development, guided by the HCNZ vision to encourage youth from Hindu and other communities to take the leadership in organising events that promote social harmony. This year was women empowerment.

Once again Hindu Council organised a Marae stay for people from outside Rotorua to allow them to experience and learn about Maori culture and tradition. A special powhiri was organised at the Apumoana Marae for the out of town visitors.

We thank the large number of sponsors and supporters including charitable organisations, government agencies, businesses and community organisations, and our print and electronic media partners.

The Hindu Council of New Zealand and the Rotorua Deepawali Committee welcomes volunteers genuinely interested in promoting Rotorua Deepawali Festival in the spirit of community well-being on the principle of “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam” (World is one family).