The weather didn't ruin the first day of the Auckland Diwali Festival, but protesters had a go at spoiling a "joyous moment", an organiser says.

A small crowd chanted "filth" and "shame" as Prime Minister John Key gave a speech during the festival's official opening. He jokingly referred to them as his "fan club over there".

The group was protesting the potential deportation of Indian students who were found to have had fraudulent immigration documentation.

The protesters held signs saying "Don't deport us" and "Justice for our Indian students". With the help of a man with a megaphone, the group chanted "We want justice".


Labour leader Andrew Little addressed them in a speech, saying he supported them.

"Everybody must know that the New Zealand experience is about fairness and fair treatment and equity," he said.

Jeet Suchdev, chairman of the Bhartiya Samaj Trust, said it was "not a pleasant scene".

"Everybody has got a right to protest, but when we are having a joyous moment . . . it is not a pleasant situation," Suchdev said.

Despite the protest, Suchdev was "delighted" with how the festival was going, saying he could see about 10,000 people at one point.

"A lot of people, they are enjoying it. It truly reflects the multicultural society of New Zealand."

He said festival-goers could look forward to the fireworks finale tomorrow, which was set to happen at 9pm.

Suchdev said he is elated that a community event his group started 14 years ago has evolved into one of Auckland's biggest cultural festivals.

The Auckland Diwali kicked off at midday with Bollywood dancing, Indian music, workshops and a host of street food stalls offering Indian and ethnic cuisine.

More than 50,000 are expected to attend the event at Aotea Square and Queen St, which finishes tomorrow night with a fireworks display.

Diwali has kicked off in Auckland's Aotea Square, with the Radio Tarana Bollywood Dance Competition.

The Auckland Diwali Festival is now co-organised by Asia New Zealand Foundation and the Auckland Council.

"I am thrilled and happy that what we started in 2002 as something to keep our local Indian community connected to their roots has become a mega event," said Suchdev, chair of the Bhartiya Samaj Trust.

"The Indian community is a very inclusive one, and this is perfect for the wider Kiwi community to experience the sights, sounds and flavours of India."

Suchdev remembers the event when it featured dances and performances by just local Indian community and cultural groups.

"There were no Bollywood or international stars, we didn't have that kind of money back then," he said.

This year's event will feature international stars from India's Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh regions, and will showcase dance, puppetry, intricate paper-cut artistry and folk art.

Indian actress, model and dancer Meghranjani will lead a group of Kathak dancers, which would include her dancer and choreographer mother Mahami Medhi, and dancing to music by her father Joy Prakash Medhi.

Puppet Master Vinod Bhatt will present a traditional puppet art form that dates back more than 1000 years with his troupe of Jaipur-based Rajasthani puppeteers.

Two Indian visual artists, Venkat Shyam, will present his style of contemporary Gond art and Parth Kothekar, from Ahmedabad, with carve delicate artworks from sheets of paper.

The event will also feature more than 800 local performers and festival favourites, including The Garagewalas, DJ Dave and the Bollywood dance competition.

Roopa Suchdev, operations manager of the Roopa Aur Aap Charitable Trust, said the Auckland Diwali event has become central to community celebrations here.

Back in India, the Hindu festival - which this year falls on October 30 - sees shops and homes adorn with decorations and mad shopping rush.

Like in India, families here also light oil diya lamps together and drawing small footprints with rice flour and vermilion powder to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.

"For many Indians in New Zealand, the event is where they can go to and get in the festive mood," Roopa said.

"Diwali is about light over darkness, joy and happiness, and the festival is where we get to share that joy with people of all ethnicity."

The first two Auckland Diwali Festival of Lights led by the Asia NZ Foundation and the council in 2002 and 2003 were held at the Mahatma Gandhi Centre in New North Rd.

It moved to the present site in 2004 and has also been on the waterfront at other times.

"Diwali had been celebrated around New Zealand privately for many decades before the major public festivals," a foundation spokeswoman said.

She said the public Diwali celebrations were initiated to enable New Zealanders to learn more about the traditions and contemporary cultures of India, and to publicly acknowledge the contributions of Indian communities here.

The 2016 Auckland Diwali is a free event celebrating traditional and contemporary Indian culture, food and fashion.

Hinduism is the second-largest religion in New Zealand after Christianity with more than 90,000 followers.

Auckland City Libraries is also running a series of programmes to commemorate Diwali.

Children will be taught how to count and say different colours in Hindi and told popular Indian stories during special sessions.

Many libraries will also be hosting henna art demonstrations until the end of the month.

"It's a great way of bringing the community together and have some fun while learning more about one another along the way," said Shivangi Pradhan, multicultural service adviser libraries.


Auckland Diwali Festival

When: Saturday and Sunday, October 15 and 16, midday to 9pm each day.

Where: Aotea Square and Queen St.

What: One of Auckland's largest cultural festivals, free.

Highlights: International stars performing Kathak dances, paper-cutting artistry, traditional puppetry, 21st century folk art, Indian street food and fireworks.