The night was a blur of wonderful food, hilarious skits and beautiful clothing. There were even personal anecdotes about fireworks, saris and babies. On Saturday, Nov. 1, students gathered in the Lion’s Pause for the annual Diwali celebration. Talk about dinner and a show!
Diwali, or the “festival of lights,” is an ancient Hindu festival celebrated every autumn. The festival signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair. The holiday has become more inclusive and secular over the past few decades and now involves Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and Buddhists. Although each religion celebrates the festival differently, there exists a common tradition that has allowed South Asia to celebrate its rich religious and cultural heritage.
Diwali was first celebrated in the White House in 2003 and Barack Obama became the first president to attend the festival in 2009. Today, there are 3 million Hindus in the United States. At St. Olaf, the celebration has also been one of the most popular cross-cultural events on campus in recent years. The highly-attended event is hosted annually at St. Olaf, and is organized by the Celebrate South Asia CSA student committee and the Diversity Celebrations Committee DCC.
After an introductory speech by Debratata Mukhopadhyay regarding the history of the festival, the festivities began. The first dancers took to the stage for a splendid rendition of Bharatanatyam, a style of dance renowned for its grace and purity.
Next up was “Jiya Jale,” a Bollywood dance involving much rhythmic arm waving and hip-shaking. The performance also included contemporary Bollywood selections, such as “Tum Hi Ho” or “Only You,” which was one of the more somber and romantic pieces of the evening.
After an intermission in which the nearly 500 attendees dined on catered Indian food, Diwali resumed with a flurry of red dresses and quick twirls in the form of Nagada Sang Dhol.
Traditional dances weren’t the only attraction, however. The celebration also included a skit of the ever-important myth of Rama and Ravana, which embodied the recurring Diwali theme of light’s triumph over darkness. The celebration concluded with “Lagu Mela Gaya,” the pièce de résistance of the entire evening. After such a warm and energetic performance, one could not feel amiss walking out into the cool November night.
“Participating in Diwali was one of the coolest things I’ve done in my four years at St. Olaf College. Learning about another culture by actually partaking in their celebration was incredible,” Colton Rod ’15 said. “Every person involved had great energy, which made the whole event exciting. CSA did such a great job with the event, and I would recommend that every individual at this school participate or attend Diwali before graduating.”
Many other participants found that Diwali celebrated culture, creativity and community.
“Being a part of Diwali is meaningful to me because the event brings together a community of individuals devoted to celebrating unique cultural values significant to them,” Mudassar Sandozi ’15 said. “I admire that kind of respect for cultural heritage.”
The international celebration has become a hallmark event on the St. Olaf campus. This year’s event was certainly the most popular yet, with dozens of performers and many times that number of spectators.
India Palace catered the event and matched the spicy performance on stage with its own flavorful food, including basmati rice, naan, madras and other splendid dishes.
Diwali’s increasing popularity in the United States is heartwarming and not unexpected. Expect to see more of the celebration, which is renowned as a day of forgiveness and overcoming discrimination. These are certainly important values in an increasingly globalizing society.
Photo Credit: ANDREW WILDER/MANITOU MESSENGER