Recalling Hindu traditions, Indian students mark Diwali

Diwali celebrates the end of one year and the beginning of another.
Sruti Velamakanni (left) and Prachi Mishra (right) practice their South Indian dance for the fashion show portion of the ISA Fall Show Friday evening at Tedd Mann Music Hall.
November 08, 2010

For Hindus in India, Diwali marks the end of one year and the beginning of another — a time for celebration with fireworks, sweets and even gambling in hopes of ushering in good luck for the coming year.

In an effort to bring the festival of lights to the University of Minnesota, the Indian Student Association commemorated the five-day celebration with a variety and dance show Friday at Ted Mann Concert Hall.

Diwali is celebrated in two parts, Dhruv Goel, a University senior from India said. While there is some regional variation in the way the religion is celebrated, the first part of the celebration involves prayer to the Hindu god of wealth for prosperity in the following year. Second, Hindus honor the anniversary of the god Rama’s return from exile.

Indians typically pray in private with their families for this day, which is why ISA president Rani Thomas designed the event to allow families to celebrate it as they wish.

"This is supposed to be family time," she said. "People can do prayers at home and then come to the show."

Dressed in traditional bright Indian attire, complete with a glittering stud in the center of her forehead, Tanvi Doshi attended the show with her family, including a son who attends the University and is a member of ISA. She has lived in Minnesota for 10 years. She called the evening a great reminder of home.

"This is as similar as India," she said. "It reflects Indian culture here."

The show began in complete darkness with six dancers holding artificial candles and walking down the aisles of the concert hall, past the audience and onto the stage. This represented the festival of lights, Thomas said.

It continued with various classic Indian dances. Dancers flicked their wrists, tapped their ankles and spun, each movement sending the chimes of their bangles through the auditorium.

ISA also performed a skit mocking the problems Indians frequently face when coming to Minnesota. It featured an Indian student with a long name who had difficulty grasping American etiquette.

Before the show the guests enjoyed a classic Indian dinner of paneer pakora — a fried cheese dish — and naan, or bread, on the side to give them what Thomas called "a taste of home."

Thomas considered the show a success for ISA, which she considers "a channel for students to get to know each other and celebrate their culture," she said.

There was a diverse mix of Indian culture in the crowd, she said proudly, from people who have lived in India most of their lives to those who only know India through their heritage.

More than 1,000 students, adults and children, mostly Indian, attended. The crowd was large enough to push the show from Coffman Union, where it’s usually held, to the concert hall. People dressed in traditional Indian and contemporary clothing and spoke both Hindi and English.

"It seemed like all of ISA and the Indian community came together," said Karan Advani, a senior accounting and marketing major from New Delhi. "It was nice to be able to see other Indians around a major festival."

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