Students shine brightly in Diwali celebration
Growing up, juniors Anvita Devineni and Suparna Malia both recall celebrating Diwali, the South Asian festival of lights, with potluck dinners, games, elaborate traditional clothing and festive firecrackers. Now, as co-cultural chairs of Ashoka, Washington University’s South Asian society, Devineni and Malia are responsible for sharing their culture, planning the annual Diwali show full of dances, songs and skits, to three crowds of nearly 600 people each.
This year, Ashoka hosted its 28th annual show, which centered around a main narrative of alien invasion and was appropriately titled “The Diwali Files.”
“It’s like a completely different experience because every day you live a normal life, but this is really when you have that overwhelming flow of your roots,” Malia said. “It’s truly the best, it’s amazing.”
The show opened with Diya Lighting, in which 19 students stood on a pitch black stage holding small candles. Each stepped forward and welcomed the crowd to Diwali in a different language, including English, French, Hindi, Swahili, Tamil and Urdu. The audience was then introduced to the first overarching storyline of the show, which followed two detectives of questionable competence returning to their alma mater, Washington University, to investigate an alien arrival on Francis Field.
While focusing on the theme of friendship, the skit, written by seniors Rahul Ramaswamy and Roshni Bagli, included humor and jokes relevant to the Wash. U. community. In one scene, the chancellor character “peeled the banana” in homage to Chancellor Mark Wrighton’s quintessential routine, while in another, the characters poked fun at existing stereotypes of pre-med and business school students. WashU Raas, one of the oldest competitive teams in the United States performing the traditional Indian folk dance, even choreographed an entire routine dedicated to Wash. U. Wash.
“We’re really excited to show our culture to you, but we’re also keeping it very real this time around,” Malia said.
The show cast a spotlight on many forms of student talent. Sur Taal Laya performed a cappella mashups of Bollywood and Western pop songs. The fashion show, a Wash. U. Diwali tradition, highlighted clothing from several countries, including Bhutan, Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan. Student dance groups WashU Classical, Chaahat, Garba, Bhangra and Raas showed off traditional South Asian dance styles, many integrating storytelling or interpretive dance into their performances.
Most of these teams practice for at least six hours every week, leading up to Diwali. No experience is required to audition for the show, so the 200 students involved all brought varying talents and skills. Malia and Devineni have been involved in Wash. U.’s Diwali celebration every year of college so far, having performed in a combined total of seven out of the 10 events. Together, they have been preparing for the show since May.
“When you see how big of an influence or an impact Diwali has on the community at Wash. U. and outside, that’s huge, but also just to see all of our Ashoka members here in the Gargoyle at the same time is crazy,” Malia said. “Because we’ve talked about this a million times: that never happens. You don’t see everyone at the same place ever, so it’s really overwhelming but in the best way possible.”
For the performers, preparing for Diwali is a meaningful bonding experience and cultural celebration. For the audience, attending Diwali elicits laughter, learning and personal reflection.
“Be prepared to be surprised, be prepared to laugh, be prepared to maybe be silent and take a moment to yourself, maybe even tear up,” Devineni said. “It’s just about getting to see people show their passion and that’s something about this show, every single person is so passionate about performing and our music, our costumes, our acts. Everyone just brings their all.”