Festival of Lights

Being a domestic international student is an interesting experience, as it puts me in a strange middle ground between the American and South Asian cultures. However, this middle ground also requires quite a bit of compromise when it comes to celebrating certain holidays – for example, the Festival of lights, which the South Asian Student Association (SASA) planned an event for earlier this fall.

As far as the club goes, it’s great to be a part of a club that recognizes your heritage and background, especially as a minority; there are a few of us who consistent come to each meeting, and we spend most of it just hanging out. For one of our previous meetings, we made Maggi noodles and played Codenames in the GAC, so it is a great space for people to come together, whether or not they are South Asian – even just a curiosity or appreciation of our culture is enough.

The holiday we celebrated, popularly known as Diwali because that is what they call it in India, is referred to as Deepawali in Nepal, and is just one day out of five in terms of festivities. It is part of a five-day festival called Tihar, where, one day we celebrate dogs, one day we celebrate cows, one day we celebrate our brothers, and so on. Although the holiday came around as early as late October, because of conflicts with scheduling, SASA waited as long as November 16 to actually celebrate the holiday in the Reid ballroom.

Of course, by then, all of our families were long done with celebrations, but a majority of us in the club were still well into the holiday spirit. Me and another officer gathered four other people to perform a dance, which we practiced in the Prentiss dance studio from Monday through Saturday. We danced to a song called Maahi Ve, from a famous Bollywood movie called Kal Ho Naa Ho. Although none of us are dancers, we found a way to follow a dance from online and choreographed it from scratch. We also edited the music down from six minutes to three, and by the time Saturday evening rolled around, we were feeling clumsy (running into one another one stage), terrified, and buzzing with excitement.

It was definitely stressful and exhausting planning for the event, as I was in charge of finding traditional clothing for all of my friends, but with the help of some South Asian faculty, it all slowly fell into place. 

There were several tables set up in the Reid ballroom, and our guests arrived slowly but surely to grab some food and take a seat. We started out with a brief introduction into Diwali – a celebration of victory of light over darkness— and thirty minutes later, performed our heavily practiced dance. 

I have practiced performing traditional dances on stage since I was eleven, but it never seems to get any easier – especially when you are performing in front of your peers. Although there were a few screw-ups (I definitely turned around two beats too soon once, and forgot the steps a couple of times), we were met at the end by a roar of applause that both embarrassed us and lifted our spirits.

About ten minutes later, we held a short fashion show. This was mostly us having fun up on stage, as we did not practice it much; after that, we opened the floor up for a dance. It was amazing to see our friends go out onto the middle of the floor and dance to our music, and just enjoy the experience of being immersed in a tradition from a different region of the world.

We ended the program at nine, and people left with food in their stomachs and henna on their hands, indicating that this event had been a success. It was yet another lovely way to gather my friends from within my different cultures and have a good time, which is always a beautiful thing to witness. The end of the event left me looking forward to next year’s program, where I plan to assemble all of my friends one last time and perform a final dance before my college days are behind me.


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