UI students to celebrate Diwali on campus this weekend


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Neighborhoods illuminated with lights and earthen oil lamps, streets full of people wearing shiny new clothes, and a constant background score that is composed of booms from a million firecrackers — Rajiv Ranjan said he is going to miss not being home for Diwali. 

Ranjan, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Iowa, described Diwali quite simply as the Indian festival of lights. When asked to delve deeper, Ranjan noted that the festival has strong religious lineage.

“In Hinduism, Diwali marks the victory of good over evil,” said Ranjan, also a UI teaching assistant for Hindi. “Hindu rituals become prominent around the time of Diwali, but the celebration part of it is enjoyed by everyone in the country.”

President of the UI Indian Student Alliance Jostna Dash agreed with Ranjan, and she said she believes Diwali in Iowa is a celebration of Indian heritage and culture, more than anything else.

“While historically, Diwali is a religious celebration, the [student association] does not recognize it as a religious event,” Dash said. “It is more of a celebration of the culture and an opportunity for people from all backgrounds to gather and witness the taste, smell, sound and sights of India.”

Diwali — now the biggest UI event in the fall semester — has been celebrated on the UI campus since the organization came into existence about 16 years ago, Dash said. Last year, more than 600 people were in attendance.

Scheduled for Saturday in the IMU, this year’s event is going to include performances by dance groups Iowa Andhi and Hawkeye Bhangra and also by the South Asian fusion a cappella group Iowa Agni.

Dash said a new feature this year will be the sale of crafts and calendars by the UI Chapter of Association for India’s Development, with all proceeds going to aid the development of more schools in India.

UI sophomore Ananya Kumar, a member of Iowa Agni, said her group has been practicing twice a week since August to be on its game. Excited about the event, Kumar said she thinks the Indian Student Alliance does a great job of making Diwali a very inclusive celebration.

“They do a very good job of blending in and including people that may not know too much about Diwali,” she said. “They have a lot of insight into how people celebrate Diwali in India and that really immerses you into the whole aura of the festival.”

A graduate student from India said the American equivalent to Diwali would be a combination of Christmas and July 4.

Bhupinder Singh, who misses shooting firecrackers from his rooftop the most, said he is very impressed with the groups’ performances involved in the event.

“I love that it is such a community event,” Singh said. “Everyone gets to dress up in their traditional clothes, meet new people, take pictures. It is heartening to see the students of Indian origin born in the U.S. putting up very traditional performances and keeping the culture alive.”

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