Prime Minister Helen Clark found herself in the same spellbound audience as National leader Don Brash last night as the Indian community celebrated a victory of good over evil.

They were given front-row seats - although in different aisles - at a Samoan community centre in Mangere as the Manukau Indian Association started celebrating Diwali, the annual Festival of Lights, which marks the Hindu new year on October 21.

They watched as splendidly costumed dancers performed items from the epic tale of the Ramayana, in which the Lord Rama defeats the devil Ravana and returns home after many years of exile in the wilderness. The battle is a metaphor for the struggle between good and evil in each person.

Both leaders left before the highlight of the evening, in which a towering effigy of Ravana was to be destroyed in a blaze of fireworks at the Malaeola Community Centre.

They would have needed time to prepare for their own battle in Parliament this week, when the Auditor-General's final report on election spending is tabled on Thursday.

A grim-faced Helen Clark was in no mood to discuss her more worldly concerns with the Herald as she swept out of the hall to a waiting limousine. But inside the hall she earlier paid tribute before a 1000-strong gathering to the many new-year events celebrated by New Zealand's various ethnic communities.

"When I was a child in New Zealand, we had one new year, it was January 1. And then I got to know about Matariki, the Maori new year, and then I got to know about the Chinese new year, and now I know about so many new years, including Diwali.

"And I think it's part of being a New Zealander to celebrate all these wonderful festivals together and Diwali truly is a highlight of our calendar every year."

The Prime Minister also attended Diwali celebrations in West Auckland earlier yesterday, where she said the Waitakere Trust stadium was almost set ablaze by fireworks.

She said the greatest gift of India to New Zealand had been the gift of its people.

Diwali was a time of hope which offered New Zealanders of all origins an opportunity "to experience something of the richness of the culture of India brought to our country".

But Manukau Indian Association president Anil Channa, while welcoming the appointment of Anand Satyanand as the first Governor-General of Indian ancestry, said to applause that it was time his community was represented in Parliament.