Festival of Lights illuminates culture

Glass bowls filled with tea candles and rose petals adorned the tables at the Indian Students’ Association’s Annual Diwali Dinner and Cultural Show Saturday night in the Marvin Center ballroom.


The candles symbolized Diwali, the “Festival of Lights,” a traditional Indian holiday celebrated by various religions every autumn. The event kicked off Program Board’s Religion Week, an exploration of the various faiths on campus.

The Diwali dinner at 6:30 p.m. drew about 250 ISA members and non-members. When the show began at 9 p.m., the ballroom crowd topped 400, said ISA co-Presidents Rajan Bhaskar and Jasmine Puri.

Bhaskar said the Diwali event is traditionally the ISA’s largest undertaking of the fall semester.

Krishna Tripuraneni, ISA treasurer, said the Diwali event largely was subsidized by the Student Association, Program Board and Marvin Center Governing Board.

A Hindi band entertained audience members as they dined on gourmet Indian fare catered by Aroma restaurant. Many of the attendees wore vibrantly colored traditional Indian clothing.

“We tried to add a religious aspect to the show this year,” said Swati Sharma, a member of the Satyam, the GW Hindu Students Council. “It makes sense that if we’re going to name our show after a Hindu holiday, there ought to be some religious content to it.”

The drive to add more religious elements to the show led the ISA to incorporate two new acts aimed at explaining Diwali‘s traditional significance, Sharma said.

To open the show, representatives of Satyam presented Aarti, a Sanskrit prayer asking God for joy and prosperity, and pledging servitude. Students on stage performed a ritual offering of light, a symbol of respect, to their deity.

Satyam members and members of other religions that originate in India explained how Diwali is celebrated in various regions of the country.

According to some beliefs, Diwali is the celebration of the deity Ram‘s return home after conquering the demon Ravan. Ram was welcomed by placing candles outside houses to illuminate his entrance into the city, giving the holiday the name “Festival of Lights,” Tripuraneni and other ISA members said.

Following the reverent opening prayer, the program turned to dancing and the infectious beat of Indian medleys.

“The show packed an incredible amount of talent,” said Vikram Bakhru, one of four masters of ceremonies. “I think that Indian parents are largely to thank for fostering this sense of heritage within their children by encouraging them to become involved in the community.”

First-year ISA member Rishi Desai said he enjoyed the diversity of the Indian culture presented in the show.

“From the northern Punjabi region to the south of India, there are so many individual customs and traditions,” he said. “It is important to portray that as part of the unique spirit of India.”

Bakhru and his fellow emcees entertained the audience between acts with ISA versions of popular television shows such as MTV’s “Singled Out.” Another memorable splicing of Eastern and Western culture came when musicians Anand Susarla and Vijay Vanguri jammed to Led Zepplin’s classic “Stairway to Heaven” on the electric guitar and sitar, a native Indian stringed instrument.

“The success of the show came from the unity of everyone who helped to put it on,” Bhaskar said. “Everyone from the performers to the people who organized the event did a great job. We couldn’t have been more pleased.”

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