Diwali Lights, a collaboration between Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania to celebrate the Indian festival of lights, was held Nov. 18 in Drexel’s main building, drawing a crowd of more than 700 people.
The festival brought together students and families from both universities to commemorate the Hindi New Year.
“For me, Diwali is all about starting a new year and celebrating with friends and family. I’ve lived abroad my entire life, and my family and I never did anything big for Diwali, so I find it really fun to help organize Diwali Lights for the student body on such a grand scale,” Riyana Bilimoria, a student majoring in business administration, said.
The celebration began with a puja, a religious ceremony in which prayers are offered to deities Lakshmi and Ganesha. Drexel alumnus Jaydev Dave recited a series of couplets, during which he asked the crowd to close their eyes in meditation, feeling the presence of God around them. Figures of the two deities were “bathed” and “fed” milk and a sweet dish prepared for the puja. Dave recounted the Hindu mythology that explained why the elephant-headed Lord Ganesha is always worshipped first during each puja.
The ceremony continued with an aarti, where members of the crowd took turns passing a candle in front of the figures while a song of praise was played.
After the puja, members of the Penn Sargam music group performed a variety of Indian songs. These included “Dhoom” by the popular band Euphoria, and the traditional song “Sawan Ki Ghata.” Sargam was followed by Penn’s female South Asian fusion a cappella group, Penn Atma. They combined well-known American songs such as “Stand by Me” with different Hindi songs.
The renowned all-male dance troupe Penn Dhamaka took the floor after the singers finished. Also combining American and Indian entertainment, they performed dance routines to Hindi numbers mixed with artists such as Chris Brown. Another group of students in classic Indian clothes performed a traditional garba dance.
“The celebration went really well,” Rajath Elias Soans, an electrical engineering major, said. “I found many people enjoyed that day, and I got many positive feedbacks [sic] too.”
Everyone who attended Diwali Lights was invited to become part of the celebration. The dance floor was opened for all to join in dancing to popular Bollywood songs, and prizes were awarded for categories such as best dressed, best dancer and first person on the dance floor.
Guests were also invited to join in the dandiya, an Indian celebratory group dance. Performed in a circle, pairs of dancers hit together dandiyas, which are colorful wooden sticks, in time to the music throughout the dance.
There were a number of stalls open around the main floor throughout the evening, offering popcorn, henna tattoos and halva, a dessert made from milk, melted butter, sugar, semolina flour and raisins.
A buffet of traditional Indian cuisine was also served at the festival. Selections included the lentil dish dal, flatbreads, rice with vegetables, chutneys and gulab jamun, which is fried sweets served in a sugar syrup.
The Diwali Lights festival excelled in bringing together a large crowd of gifted performers and spirited students and families, happy to join in honoring the beloved cultural traditions.
“The only drawback is that we had to end the event at 10 p.m., and no one wanted to leave!” Bilimoria said.
The Drexel Indian Undergraduate Students Association, Pragathi Indian Graduate Students Association at Drexel, Hindu Students Association, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia Tarang and Penn Rangoli student groups sponsored the event.