BY SAMAN BHAT ’22
Students were greeted by twinkling lights and decorations as they entered Chapin Auditorium and took their seats on Friday, Nov. 30, ready to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Mount Holyoke’s annual Diwali celebration was hosted by the South Asian Student Association (AWAZ) with over 140 people in attendance.
Diwali falls on the 15th day of Kartik, a month in the Hindu lunar calendar. It celebrates the return of two deities, Rama and Sita, to the city of Ayodhya after 14 years of exile. In the traditional story, the villagers of Ayodhya lit oil lamps to illuminate a path for them in the darkness.
According to Aditi Parashar ’22, one of the event coordinators of AWAZ, in the days leading up to the event, every household does a deep cleanse, a type of spring cleaning. It is also popular for people to decorate their households with “Diyas,” a small type of clay oil lamp. On the day of Diwali “everyone just gets really dressed up, and you have a Diwali puja — the Hindu act of worship — and the whole family comes together for that,” said Parashar.
Mount Holyoke’s Diwali celebration was no exception: walking into Chapin, the dimly lit hall was decorated with fairy lights to add to the festive atmosphere and pay homage to the traditional holiday. Those in attendance were also greeted by an array of South Asian cuisine, including butter chicken, a famous Indian dish with chicken mixed in with spiced tomato sauce, and paneer, a dish of curdled cheese which is served with vegetables.
Attendees wearing traditional clothes such as vibrantly colored saris and lehengas, as well as other types of Desi (Indian, Pakistani or Bengali) clothing filled the room. Hindu students are often unable to make it back home for Diwali, so the on-campus event means a lot to them. “It felt like I was at home again,” said Saima Haque ’22. “I was so happy to be able to dress up in my traditional clothes and be around people who were also like that. I thought I wouldn’t be able to dress up like that until I went back.”
According to Amal Fadoo ’20, co-chair of AWAZ, this year’s turnout exceeded expectations. “I was part of the Diwali last year and I feel that this year we had a lot of people come, especially from the Five College area,” she said. The event has steadily been growing since its inception and has started gaining popularity across the Five Colleges due to the fun games, performances and open dance floor.
After a game that asked audience members to guess the name of a Bollywood song based only on an English translation of its lyrics, members of the AWAZ board took the stage. They performed a high-energy dance to a Bollywood medley, energizing the audience for the last and most highly anticipated part of the night — the open dance floor.
The DJ for the night, Chris Persaud, played a fusion of Hindi and English songs, keeping the dance floor lively. Students barely left the dance floor, showing off their dance moves from Bhangra to hip-hop. Guneet Moihdeen ’21, a member of the Bhangra team at Mount Holyoke, loved the open dance floor. “Dancing was so much fun, especially with all my friends,” she said. “It made me feel at home. Honestly, it was half the reason I came.”
Many students feel that AWAZ’s events give them a place to celebrate their culture away from home. AWAZ throws several events throughout the year, bringing some of these significant holidays in South Asian culture to campus. AWAZ’s events help Haque, Moihdeen and other students feel at home in a place that is, for some, a foreign environment far from home.