Metro Atlanta has kicked off the Diwali holiday season with the traditional lighting of the lamp at the annual Global Mela.

The two-day celebration at the Global Mall on Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Gwinnett County was launched in May 2002 and has become an annual celebration for the Indian community living in metro Atlanta. The general public also has been encouraged to attend to learn more about the diverse world cultures represented in the area.

Known as the festival of lights, Diwali gets its name from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that are lit to symbolize the victory of inner light over spiritual darkness. The holiday is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists.

This year’s five-day festival of lights, also called Deepavali, officially begins Nov. 12. The kickoff ceremony Oct. 28-29 in Gwinnett also served as preparation for the holiday, with shopping at the mall featuring offerings from more than 30 clothing and jewelry vendors, plus 15 service vendors.

Global Mela 2023 also featured music and dance performances. Authentic Indian food was available both days, and free family friendly activities included face painting, balloon creations, magic shows, and more. Organizers estimated that about 20,000 people attended this year’s celebration.

For Hindus in southern India, Diwali is the day Lord Krishna slew the demon Naraka. In the northern states it’s observed as the day Lord Rama returned from a 14-year exile to the forest. For Jains, it marks the day Lord Mahavira (the religion’s founder) attained nirvana, or spiritual awakening. In Sikhism, Diwali honors the day the Guru Hargobind, the sixth of 10 Sikh gurus, was released from prison during Mughal rule. Some Buddhists celebrate Diwali as the commemoration of the day when Emperor Ashoka converted to Buddhism in third century B.C. It is observed mostly by the Vajrayana Buddhist minority among the Newar people of Nepal.

Other recent Diwali celebrations included events in Dunwoody and Johns Creek.

“This year’s celebration was greater than ever as we continue to expand on the amazing diversity in our community,” Shiv Aggarwa, board chairman for the Gateway85 Community Improvement District, said about the Global Mall gathering. “A community with 131 nations represented, numerous languages and a population where 25% of this community was born outside of the United States. What a time to celebrate our diversity.”