Diwali festival: Fashion, dance, food and — above all — light

Business school's World Court becomes a scene of celebration

Henna painting, decorating traditional diyas, dancing to Bollywood music and eating Indian cuisine in abundance characterized campus celebrations of Diwali, the five-day South Asian festival of lights.

The largest event was held at the International Business School, which has a high percentage of international students, including a substantial number from India, where Diwali is observed by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs as a joyous and festive day.

The business school’s World Court, which usually functions as a cafeteria, was transformed into a festive, carnivalesque space with fairy lights hung from the large windows, small clay lamps holding candles that lined the walls and contemporary Bollywood music echoing through the room.

In one corner, a colorful, Indian folk art design or rangoli, which is a symbol of joy and happiness, was painstakingly drawn out on the floor. The room was packed with students, both graduate and undergraduate.

The evening was enlivened with music and dance performances by members of the Brandeis South Asian community, who performed to an appreciative multicultural audience that greeted famous Pakistani and Indian songs with cheers. Indian food was provided free for all who wanted to try it.

“This is a samosa, kind of like a fried dumpling filled with spicy vegetables,” a business school volunteer explained to a hesitant faculty member. Volunteers stood by, ready to serve and explain each dish to the many people who lined up to try the fare.

The highlight of the evening was a South Asian fashion show.

“The idea was new this year, suggested by a fellow student,” said Anusha Bazaz MA ’12, organizer of the show. “This was a great chance to showcase some beautiful Indian clothes and get some international students involved as well.”

Diwali is a contraction of “Deepavali,” a Sanskrit term which means “row of lamps.” It usually is celebrated between the end of October and early November, a time of long nights. In Hindu culture, it is believed that at this time Lord Rama, a famous deity, returned to his hometown of Ayodhya after a 14-year exile. The people of Ayodhya lit lamps in every home to welcome back their king, as well as celebrate his victory over the demon king, Ravana. Because of this, during Diwali, light becomes a symbol of hope and positive energy and Hindus believe that by spreading light to every corner of their homes, the reign of negative energy and darkness is destroyed. Fireworks and firecrackers are used to drive away evil spirits. During the five days of the holiday, families celebrate by wearing new clothes and sharing sweets, snacks and prayers.

Bazaz said celebrating traditional, culture-specific festivals is important within the Brandeis community in general and at the business school in particular.

“Almost 70 percent of us here at IBS are international students, and it is part of our everyday lives to learn about different countries, cultures and traditions,” he said. “Celebrating Diwali gives everyone a broad sense of the Indian culture. It's like having a family with different members from different cultures and you have the chance learn about each one on a very personal level.”

Celebrating the religious aspect within a community is also important, said Chaitanya Sambagni '15, a member of the South Asian Students Association. It can get lonely on campus during this time, she said, adding “It’s the first time I have been away from my family on Diwali. It’s so essential to be around family during an important Hindu festival like this one.”

Akrant Bhardwaj MBA ’12 thought the event was a huge success because it was enjoyed and actively participated in by people from many different countries.

“It is important to organize such events because it fosters communal spirit,” Bhardwaj said. “It provides a sense of belonging and helps in building strong ties within the community.”

Categories: International Affairs, Student Life

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