By Arumina Fatehpuria
Grinnell students gathered in Harris Center on Friday, Nov. 3 to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali. Hosted by the South Asian Student Organization (SASO), this year marked the tenth year that Grinnell College students have celebrated Diwali as a public event.
Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, marks the return of the Hindu god, Rama, to the kingdom of Ayodhya after a 14-year long exile. It is believed that during his exile, Rama fought and defeated the rival king Ravana of Lanka. On his return after his victory, the people of South Asia lit and decorated their houses with oil candles in little clay pots called diyas to signify the triumph of good over evil, or light over darkness. This tradition of decorating one’s house with diyas remains a popular one all over South Asia today. This celebration occurs over a period of three days in India and over five days in Nepal (there, the festival is called Tihar, instead of Diwali). It is a time for meeting one’s extended family. At night, after performing the various rituals, people often set off fireworks.
In Grinnell, Diwali kicked off at 6 p.m. when the SASO cabinet served Indian food brought in from Des Moines. The menu for the night featured dishes such as tandoori chicken, alu gobi and drinks like mango lassi. At 7 p.m., there was a cultural show hosted by Kavya Shah ’18 and Vedika Haralalka ’18, showcasing Bollywood dance and musical performances by students as well as the Bollywood Dance group on campus.
“For me, Diwali is about getting together with your community,” said Sanah Suri ’20, vice president of SASO. “It may not necessarily be the same as how I’d celebrate it back home, but you still get that family feeling. I feel that Diwali here is really special because we don’t only celebrate it as Indians, but it’s a really inclusive time. We also have students from Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh who join in on the festivities.”
SASO intends not only to unite the South Asian community at Grinnell, but also to bring awareness of South Asian culture to all students.
“SASO’s aim is not only to bring the South Asian community in Grinnell together but also to make domestic and other international students aware of the rich and varied cultures of South Asia. This year, in addition to college students, a few townspeople also attended the event,” said Nandita Banik ’20, a cabinet member of SASO.
The organization has changed its cabinet structure this year, and has a student from every country in South Asia as part of its leadership. Earlier this semester, a Rohingya fundraiser was held to raise awareness and funds for the Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Another event celebrating the Hindu festival of Holi will be hosted by the organization in the spring semester.
SASO’s intention is to talk about and discuss South Asian culture, especially in the context of being South Asian in the United States. When asked one thing she wants the college’s students to know about SASO, Suri said, “we make good chai.”