An audience of 1,400 packed Bailey Hall to celebrate Diwali, the Indian “Festival of Lights,” on Saturday night. The performance, organized by the Society for India (S.I.) at Cornell, featured dancing, singing, music, skits and a student-made movie.
“Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is the most celebrated holiday in India,” said S.I. President Tanaya Shree ’04. “We like to continue that celebration here at Cornell with people from all corners of South Asia and beyond contributing to the show.”
The major religious festival is also the Indian New Year, celebrated over a five-day period during the Hindu months of Asvina and Karttika. S.I. Vice-President Chirag Fifadra ’03 said Diwali “stands for the dispelling of the darkness of ignorance within us.”
“[Diwali] celebrates bringing light into people’s lives, so it’s a festival for the prosperity and happiness that everybody hopes for,” said stage crew member Radhika Lakshmanan ’05.
The audience that filled even the balcony of Bailey Hall was exuberant, not only about the performances and the refreshments — Mango Lassis and Samosas — sold during intermission, but about celebrating the holiday and the participants in the show.
“This was our biggest Diwali show ever,” Fifadra said. “Seeing Bailey packed almost to capacity made all the previous weeks of effort worthwhile.”
Over the past 19 years of its existence, the Cornell Diwali show has increasingly become a part of the overall Cornell community; the masters of ceremonies repeatedly stressed the importance of Diwali for all interested Cornell students.
Audience member Violetta Fattakhov ’05 said, “There were a lot of people there who were not Hindi or Indian, and they seemed truly appreciative of Hindi culture.”
S.I. showed a detailed PowerPoint presentation near the beginning of the event explaining the history of Diwali and its customs.
The show continued with performances including Indian dance groups Sitara and Cornell Bhangra Club. These two groups combined with some other Cornell dance groups for the show’s first number, “Sitar Jam,” a multi-cultural dance presentation encompassing many styles. Sitara dancers performed a number of energetic current and traditional dances including Dola Re Dola from the film “Devda” and Raas, a beloved Gujarati folk dance with sticks.
Both Sitara and the Cornell Bhangra Club received tremendous excitement and applause from the audience. Cornell Bhangra Club consists of an all-male and an all-female team which perform the traditional bhangra dance of Punjab. The women performed Kudiyan and the men performed Mundey, an energetic bhangra dance with numerous difficult stunts and formations. Cornell Bhangra has received recognition at a number of competitions in the past year including earning first place at the World Intercollegiate Bhangra Cup of Bhangra Nation.
Cornell’s co-ed Hindi a cappella group, Tarana, also performed a set during the show, consisting of a medley of love songs and a compilation of songs from the Oscar-nominated movie Lagaan. Another musical addition to the show was the Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music and Culture Among Youth (SPICMACAY), who presented Bho Shambo and Raghuvamsa Sudha. This ensemble consists of two vocalists, a violinist, Mridangam, a percussion instrument and Harmonium, an accordion-like instrument.
“You don’t get to see some of these groups very often,” audience member Darya Mattes ’05 said. “For example, I had never seen Tarana, even though I knew they existed for over a year; I was especially excited to see them.”
Despite encountering some technical difficulties, a highlight of this year’s Diwali show was a movie called Kabhi Hero Kabhi Zero. This student-created spoof of Indian movies contained the requisite hero and love story, complete with dances in a field, and was entirely written and produced by Cornell students. Although the audience had to wait for the second half of the Diwali show to view the end of the movie, it left positive impressions, especially for anyone who had ever seen a “Bollywood” film, as mainstream Indian films are known.
“[Even] when there were so many technical problems, everyone was very supportive, which was great,” Fattakhov said.
Other components of the show included a presentation by ASHA for Education, a volunteer organization dedicated to supporting basic education efforts for underprivileged children in India, skits called Pyar (the Hindi word for Sex) in the City, and FOBulous, and a performance by Cornell’s breakdancing group, Absolute Zero.
Over 200 people helped produce the show, and many audience members said they appreciated the effort.
“It was fun to go to such a cultural event — other cultures should have nights like this,” Mattes said.
Archived article by Aliza Wasserman