The New York City Diwali Gala, held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, is one way in which the party’s hosts are looking to spotlight South Asian culture. Co-chaired by Vanity Fair’s Radhika Jones, Preet Bharara, and Kal Penn, the gala welcomed international celebrities to partake in Diwali and raise funds for the Asian American Writer’s Workshop. Bibhu Mohapatra, Ariana Debose, and Jenna Lyons joined for the sumptuous banquet at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s 36th-floor ballroom overlooking Central Park.
Joy, respect, and inclusivity are themes of the Diwali holiday, and reverberated throughout the gala. Model and Prakti Beauty founder Pritika Swarup, who wore an opulent Bibhu Mohapatra floor-length gown, told Vogue, “It’s the significance of light and positivity, and triumph over dark and evil. When I was young, my mom would make a big deal of Diwali. She would light all these candles, and bring us together. It was a moment of connection and comfort that meant so much to me.”
The gala’s South Asian fashion exemplified luxury designers par excellence, in keeping with the dress code of “South Asian Splendor.” Mirrored sequins, gold thread, dangling beads, and diaphanous drapery were omnipresent on saris, lehengas, and gowns. Fashionable guests wore couturiers like Rahul Mishra, Gaurav Gupta, and Sabyasachi, bedecked with gem-encrusted earrings, necklaces, cuffs, headpieces, and purses. Many gentlemen wore patterned and bejeweled sherwanis, a dapper mélange of modern and Rajasthani traditions.
“We’re celebrating Diwali very openly with all of our friends from all different cultures and religions and ethnic backgrounds here in New York. To be able to bring this Diwali party is very exciting,” co-host Alvina Patel Buxani told Vogue. “Being able to walk out in the New York streets dressed up in my best Indian clothes and feel very excited about it makes me feel proud.” Patel Buxani, who wore a Tarun Tahiliani dress, joined other fashion industry co-hosts like Roopal Patel, Sachin and Babi Ahluwalia, and Siddharth Kasliwal in proudly displaying Indian culture and amplifying South Asian voices on the New York stage.
The party was decorated with thousands of candles and was punctuated by exciting performances, meaningful activations, and Glenlivet cocktails. IMGE dance company performed two dance routines blending traditional Indian, hip-hop, and contemporary movements. A poet wrote custom poetry live for lucky guests. The DJ played a mix of South Asian and American songs that had glittery guests like Prabal Gurung, Huma Abedin, and Wes Gordon dancing all night long. The gala’s coda culminated with a surprise performance by rapper Tesher, who performed his hit song “Jalebi Baby.”
A Diwali celebration is not complete without food, so Maneesh K. Goyal’s restaurant SONA catered the gala. “I’m a new dad, and I’m starting to instill in my son what Diwali means. It feels exciting for me to get him excited about this holiday where it’s all new. The possibilities that exist as we look ahead are limitless. That is the innate feeling of Diwali.” Goyal channeled this joy and excitement through SONA’s gustatory delights. The meal featured savory and sweet mini dosas, Italian pastas with Indian chilis, pani puri filled with tequila or vodka shots, and traditional curries. For dessert, guests enjoyed gulab jamun, moong dal halwa, and other saccharine delicacies.
As the Diwali gala came to a close, looking out at Central Park and across Manhattan, all of the twinkling lights looked like a sea of diyas, like all of New York City was celebrating Diwali on this night to remember.