While Yale’s liberal arts education may bring you closer to light and truth, tonight’s celebration of Diwali, the Indian festival of light, will allow you to experience it in living color.
This year, the South Asian Society’s fall cultural show, “Roshni,” will feature a diverse repertoire of song and dance from the Indian subcontinent and beyond. But while SAS has changed the name recently from Diwali to Roshni — to de-emphasize the religious aspect — much of the event will remain the same, from the catered dinner from Royal India to the energetic bhangra dance finale.
“We’re trying to be secular and inclusive,” said Krishna Parekh ’05, the SAS publicity chair and a main organizer of the event. “In India, everyone celebrates [Diwali], even Muslims.”
In its traditional Indian setting, Diwali is both a Hindu religious event and a cultural celebration of light, happiness and family; but SAS is highlighting the more cultural facet to this holiday. Diwali is celebrated on Amavasya, the 15th day of the dark fortnight of the Hindu month of Kartik.
Mridu Rai, a history professor who specializes in South Asia, said in an e-mail that the Diwali tradition maintains deep historical roots.
“The origins of Diwali, the festival of lights, lie in the ancient epic Ramayana,” Rai said. “It marks the return of the king Rama to his capital city at Ayodhya, an event which his subjects celebrated with the lighting of lamps (diyas — therefore, the name diwali) throughout the city.”
She said Rama had been forced into exile because one of his father’s four wives — Kaikeyi — had wanted her own son to succeed to the throne. During exile in the forest, his wife, Sita, was kidnapped by the demon king Ravana. Only after Rama and his brother Lakshman fought a long and challenging battle did they succeed in freeing Sita, and then return to Ayodhya.
“It is this return that is celebrated to this day on Diwali,” Rai added. “The celebration also continues in the old form, by the lighting of lamps (or candles [and] electric lights these days), the bursting of fire-crackers, and by gorging on sweets.”
Neema Trivedi ’05, the SAS cultural chairwoman, said eight acts will be performed during the show, including a performance of the bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance known for its grace and purity. The seniors in SAS will perform a traditional folk dance from the western Indian state of Gujurat, while a freshman dance will accompany the songs of Bollywood movies.
Trivedi said SAS has been striving to emphasize the heterogeneity of South Asian culture. Thousands of miles from Calcutta, Lahore and Dhaka, one can begin to gain a sense of the cultural richness of the South Asian region.
“This year we have a lot more diversity [of dance] within India, and diversity between the classical and modern,” she said. She added that the club has also been making a concerted effort to abetter represent South Asia’s seven different nations. Ranidu Lankage ’05, from Sri Lanka, will be singing a Sinhalese song.
Another new modification is the involvement of local South Asian youngsters in the performances. At the beginning of the show, a hand aful of 4-to-6-year-old South Asian girls will perform the ceremonial lighting of the diyas, or candles, alongside several female members of SAS.
Before the rhythms crank up and the decorated dancers hit the stage, there will be a catered Indian buffet featuring vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, including chicken tikka masala, chana masala, saag paneer, and naan, a bread similar to pita.
Trivedi said she expects the celebration, which takes place in the Silliman College dining hall, to draw about 250-300 people.