The lobby of Drexel’s Main Building was transformed into an illuminated oasis to celebrate the Hindu “Festival of Lights,” Diwali, Oct. 27. Students from Drexel and the University of Pennsylvania, as well as organizations from around Philadelphia, came together for an evening of culture and festivities. “Diwali Lights” was primarily sponsored by the Good Idea Fund, with aid from various South Asian organizations including Drexel Pragathi, UPenn Rangoli, AID Philadelphia, ASHA Philadelphia and the Drexel Indian Undergraduate Students Association.
The celebration began at 7 p.m., and the frigid air and pelting snow did not deter attendees. Guests arrived clad in their brightest traditional Indian attire. Bowls of floating flowers and candles were nestled into corners around the main hall, and an elaborate centerpiece housed a statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu deity. Drexel students and visitors were able to enjoy prepared elegant floor murals of colored powder called Rangoli.
After a brief welcoming speech, Diwali Lights commenced with a “puja,” or sacred religious ritual, where offerings and prayers were made to the figure of Ganesha. These offerings typically include such items as water (so that Ganesha may “wash” and “drink”), flowers, incense and fruit. The crowd then gathered in singing various devotional hymns to end the puja.Once the ritual was complete, the floor was opened to UPenn Atma, UPenn’s well-known, all-female a cappella group. The ladies put together wonderful harmonies as they covered songs from “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” by the Four Seasons, to a mashup of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” fused with an Indian melody and a soulful rendition of Nelly Furtado’s “Say It Right.”
The festival attendees took the time following Atma’s performance to chat, eagerly waiting for the first course of the three-part meal to be served. Abruptly, music burst from the speakers and eight Drexel students materialized from the group in an energy-packed Indian dance routine. This got a good laugh from the crowd, and the dancers earned a big round of applause for their Bollywood breakdown.
Appetizers were finally served, and the hungry guests enjoyed their food while preparations for the evening’s final event were completed. Last but certainly not least, more than a dozen Drexel volunteers turned the grand staircase into their runway as they displayed glamorous Indian fashion. Each costume was an elegant piece of wearable artwork. I personally got the opportunity to model a gorgeous royal blue and gold sari.
Once the models went through their paces, the floor cleared and the crowd moved upstairs for the main course, allowing anyone in a dancing mood to get funky to some Indian dance tunes. Dessert came soon after, bringing the evening to a close. Everyone was in the highest of spirits as they left the hall.
With the help of many wonderful individuals and organizations, Drexel and UPenn managed to ring in the Hindi New Year with a bang.
Krupa Shah, who orchestrated the fashion show, excitedly said, “Diwali Lights was the best thing to ever happen to South Asians in the U.S.”
Drexel’s campus certainly got a dose of a unique and beautiful culture that night.