8 Diwali celebrations across Iowa to check out this month

A Hindu boy lights an oil lamp at the Banganga pond as they celebrate Dev Diwali festival in Mumbai, India, Monday, Nov. 7, 2022. (AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

By Amie Rivers

November 3, 2023

Diwali, known as the festival of lights, is a huge celebration in India and among Indian folks around the world.

That includes Iowans of Indian descent, who bring some light into our dark fall nights with celebrations across the state this month.

What is Diwali?

Briefly, the holiday is a celebration of the legends of good and evil found in Hindu, Sikh and Jain religious scriptures, according to DiwaliFestival.org.

Light signifies good triumphing over evil, and oil lamps in clay pots, candles, fireworks and other lights are a big part of the celebration. It’s also the largest gift-giving holiday in India, and people traditionally gather with family and loved ones during this time.

Diwali technically spans five days, with the most important day, Amavasya, on the third day—the biggest celebration and festival day.

That day is always celebrated on the 15th day of Kartik, a month in the calendar based on moon phases that India and other southeast Asian countries use. For those of us using a solar calendar (specifically, the US uses a Gregorian calendar), this year, Diwali’s biggest day is Nov. 12, 2023.

Celebrations across Iowa

Plenty of celebrations are happening before and after the official holiday time, whether you want a primer on the holiday, a daytime celebration, or a dance party well into the evening. Here are eight coming up:

Nov. 4 – Diwali – Iowa City

The Indian Student Alliance‘s annual Diwali will take place this year on Saturday, Nov. 4, from 6-10 p.m. at the Iowa Memorial Union’s main lounge on the University of Iowa campus. It will include musical performances, dinner and a Polaroid photo booth.

The event is free for Iowa students, $15 for general seating and $25 for VIP seating that includes a swag bag with candy and clay diyas.

Nov. 4 – Diwali Dance Dhamaka – Iowa City

“Electrifying performances” and “nonstop entertainment” are on hand for this evening of dancing to Bollywood, Bhangra, hip hop and club music starting at 10:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4, at Coa Cantina in Iowa City.

Tickets are $20 for general admission and $30 for VIPs who can cut the line.

Nov. 5 – Deepa Thiruvizha Festival – Des Moines

Another name for Diwali, enjoy a 2 p.m. program followed by dinner on Sunday, Nov. 5, at Franklin Junior High School in Des Moines.

Hosted by the Iowa Tamil Association, tickets are $12.99 to $21.99.

Nov. 8 – Celebrate Diwali – Bettendorf

Particularly geared toward families, the Meher Dance Company out of Chicago will lead this event with stories, music, and Bollywood-style dancing.

It begins at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at the Bettendorf Public Library and is open to the public.

Nov. 10 – Diwali Family Night – Iowa City

Learn about and celebrate Diwali at the Iowa City Public Library from 4:30-5:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 10. It is free and open to the public.

The first half-hour will include background on the festival, stories, food and crafts. At 5 p.m., competitive South Asian fusion dance team Iowa Andhi will perform and give participants space to try out some dance moves of their own!

Nov. 12 – Diwali Dance Dhamaka – Ames

Dinner, music and cultural performances, and plenty of dancing to Bollywood music are the focus of the second of three Diwali Dance Dhamaka parties hosted by Iowa Loves Bollywood, with DJ Raj and DJ Avi spinning hits.

Unlike the Iowa City and Des Moines events, this one is billed as free for all, and begins at 8 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12, at BNC Field House Bar and Grill in Ames.

Nov. 14 – Diwali Festival of Lights Craft Night – Boone

This all-ages event will include learning about Diwali and other Indian festivals like Rangoli and Holi, seeing various Indian crafts and clothing, and making your own papercraft.

The event runs from 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 14, at the Ericson Public Library in Boone.

Nov. 17 – Diwali Dance Dhamaka – Des Moines

Food, drinks, and dancing to Bollywood, Tollywood, Bhangra, and Nepali music, along with club hits, starts at 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 17, at Des Moines’ Pura Cocktail Lounge and Bar.

The first 100 to RSVP get in free, according to this invite, but if you missed that window, you can get $5 presale tickets here, or they’re $10 at the door. And don’t forget to “dress to impress” for the evening!


  • Amie Rivers

    Amie Rivers is Starting Line's community editor, labor reporter and newsletter snarker-in-chief. Previously, she was an award-winning journalist at the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier; now, she very much enjoys making TikToks and memes. Send all story tips and pet photos to [email protected] and sign up for our newsletter here.


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