November 13, 2000

Indian Groups Observe Diwali

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The Statler Auditorium was packed to the brim on Saturday night as an enthusiastic crowd gathered to watch the Diwali 2000 Indian cultural variety show.

In a tradition as old as Hinduism, the Diwali Indian New Year, known as the “Festival of Lights” is celebrated on Amavasya — the 15th day of the Hindu month of Ashwin (Aasho) in October or November of every year. The word “Diwali” is based on the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” — Deepa meaning light and Avali means a row, together, “a row of light.”

Using the Diwali festival as a theme for understanding Indian culture, the show, organized by the Society for India (S.I.), featured performances from a number of Indian voice, dance and cultural groups on campus.

Tarana, Cornell’s Hindi Acapella group, opened the show by singing the Indian National Anthem.

Bhakti, the Society for Hindu Cultural Awareness, explained the South Indian legend behind the festival, where King Bala, after trying to take over the Underworld, the Earth and the Heavens, was defeated by Hindu preserver god, Vishnu, who permitted King Bala to return to Earth once at the beginning of every new year to see his citizens celebrate.

A number of different cultural groups performed everything from classical dances to traditional folk.

Rang De and Prolific Soul performed their modern-style dances while vocal and instrumental group Spicamacay presented a more traditional South Indian musical piece.

A short video also featured the work done by ASHA — which means ‘Hope’ in Hindi — a volunteer group which brings basic education to underprivileged children in India. ASHA focuses on improving the lack of education, poverty and child labor in India.

Throughout the performances, the crowd grew animated, often clapping in rhythm with the music. Many fans even came dressed in costumes for the show.

“It is great to perform in front of a crowd with so much energy,” said Sudha Nandagopal ’03, who danced in Raas, which the program described as “a non-stop, hip-moving, stick-twirling action.”

“The crowd was incredible. This is the best that it’s ever been. I was taken aback by the enthusiasm,” said Sandeep Rao ’02, S.I. president.

Rao noted that interest in the Diwali Show has been growing and that this year boasted record-breaking attendance. The performance was oversold by dozens. People were willing to sit in the aisles rather than be turned away.

Rao indicated that next year the show will probably have to move to a larger stage, such as Bailey Auditorium.

Numerous alumni, faculty members, parents and residents from the greater New York area also attended the show.

Kalpana Shah, who came to watch her son hip-hop dance in Muqabla, said that she “really enjoyed seeing so many students have such an appreciation for Indian culture.”

“Even though many of the students performing were not born in India, they perform at least as well as most people living in India,” Shah added.

Khalell Hussaini grad said that the show reminded him a lot of celebrations back at home in India. “It was very touching,” he said of the “creativity and sensitivity for detail” that he felt characterized the performances.

The show ended with a special folk dance and music performance by the Bhangra group. Having returned to Ithaca earlier in the day from an Indian dance competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Friday night, members of the Bhangra group said that they were fired up for a big-time performance.

“Tonight was unbelievable. Performing before a home crowd brings up our energy. We get so into it, so much adrenaline,” said Amandeep Singh ’02, who helped choreograph the Bhangra.

Jasjeet Thind grad, a choreographer for the Bhangra, noted that Diwali was “a great way to bring everyone together and to see what different groups are doing.”

“Diwali 2000 represents the culmination of our hard work and dedication for the past semester, as well as our quest to explore and understand our culture,” said Tanvi Chheda ’02, vice president for S.I.

“[The show] was simply awesome. I didn’t know what to expect and that’s what made it fun,” said Gretchen Poulos ’03.

Archived article by Jennifer Roberts