When members of Xavier’s South Asian Society decided to stage the Indian festival of Diwali in the Gallagher Theater in November, they weren’t sure what to expect. The members had never staged the festival before, so they printed 400 tickets, hoping that at least 200 people would attend. But on the eve of the performance, they realized that wasn’t the case. Instead, the show sold out, leaving co-presidents Gaurav Marwaha and Keyur Parikh with another dilemma: How were they going to satisfy the hungry crowd?
The Indian restaurant catering the event couldn’t make more food on such short notice, but a few calls yielded another restaurant that could—a good thing, considering 420 people actually attended, some forced to sit in the aisles.
Diwali—Sanskrit for “rows of lights”—is a five-day celebration comparable to the Western world’s Christmas. Although rooted in the Indian sub-continent, Diwali is celebrated throughout the world. During this cultural and spiritual holiday, people don new clothes, visit family, share sweets and light fireworks. Participants also light buildings with diyas, or lamps, in hopes of receiving blessings from Laxshmi, the goddess of wealth.
The purpose of the South Asian Society, one of 83 student-run clubs on campus, is to educate others about South Asian heritage. It’s sponsored talks, movies and cultural dinners, but this marks the first time in the club’s three-year history that it’s staged such a show. “Two years ago, I never would have thought a South Asian cultural event of this magnitude to ever be possible because nowhere on campus was this region of the world represented in student clubs and organizations,” says Marwaha. “This campus needed something—some reflection of the cultures that make up nearly a quarter of the world’s population.”
The event included Bollywood dance routines, a fashion show with colorfully beaded finery reflective of particular regions, skits highlighting why and how the world celebrates Diwali, speeches directed at the universal and spiritual significance of the holiday and an interfaith prayer representing Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism and Christianity.
“The purpose was to show that even in our different walks of life we all share the same message of Diwali,” Parikh says. About 35 students, including several from the University of Cincinnati, had a month to rehearse. “The biggest challenges we faced were organization and experience,” says Parikh. “Many of the students had never been on stage before and almost none had been involved with an Indian dance. As a result, the choreographers found it a real challenge to create dances that would amaze an audience, but still be feasible for performers with little to no experience.”
The event raised approximately $2,000, which was donated to UNICEF in support of natural disaster relief. The evening ended with a full Indian buffet.
Yet, while Diwali comprises lavish decorations, sweets and fireworks, it also possesses a more spiritual purpose: to dispel the darkness of one’s own ignorance. “It is a festival of the light that shows us the way on our journey through life,” Marwaha says. “The purpose is to glorify the light of God. It is he who bestows the real light—the everlasting light upon the darkness of the world.”