Students celebrate culture, history at Diwali Night event

By Grace Rebekah Kenney

“Nights of celebration and lots of fireworks. It’s just like a big party. It’s a very colorful celebration.”

That’s how Neal Dodia, president of the Indian Student Association and senior in LAS, describes Diwali in India. However, with India far away, Indians students in Champaign-Urbana are unable to have a week-long celebration. This won’t stop them as they still have plans to celebrate Diwali in their own way this coming weekend.

Diwali is the celebration of the return of Rama and Sita, two reincarnated deities, from their exile and their subsequent defeat of a demon, Dodia said. From its origin, Diwali has been a community-focused celebration, with the townspeople of Ayodhya, India, working together to bring back the deities from their exile. Nowadays, it’s an opportunity for families and friends to get together and celebrate with fireworks, lights and lots of food.

Diwali Night at the Union will certainly be quite similar. After a dinner of Indian appetizers, food and drinks, several South Asian-themed performance groups will present both modern and traditional music. But the highlight for this year’s show just might center on a dance called the Bharatanatyam.

Vaish Shastry, junior in Business and head coordinator of this year’s Diwali Night, said she is looking forward to the event.

“Typically women perform this type of dance, but this year we have a male solo act,” Shastry said. “I’m very excited for people to react to him because he’s classically trained, but it’s atypical to see a guy do this type of dance.”

Despite the large scale of the event, Dodia said it is entirely run by University students.

“Everything is student-run, from the lights and the sound, and running all the technical aspects of it, making the videos, to people who are performing on stage, people who are making some of the food items as well,” Dodia said. “It’s all student-run and it’s all student participation.”

The event is open to the public, and Shastry said it is a good way for people to learn more about Indian culture.

“My rooommates and all of my friends are very interested to come because it showcases a part of me that they’ve never really seen or gotten to know,” she said. “So when I put on these shows, they see that I’m passionate about these particular things and this is my culture.”

Kunjal Raichura, senior in LAS, said this event is more than just a celebration for her.

“I think it shows that our culture is still alive, regardless of all of us being both American and Indian and miles and miles away from India, that we haven’t forgotten about our roots,” Raichura said. “It is a way to celebrate with everybody else, and a reminder to ourselves, and to show other people the significance of this holiday for all of us.”