November 4, 2012

Cornell Graduate Students Celebrate Indian Festival of Lights

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A week before millions of firecrackers are set to burst throughout India and parts of Southeast Asia, hundreds of twinkling lights illuminated the Dyson Atrium, where more than 325 people celebrated Diwali –– the Indian festival of lights –– with food, music and dancing.

The annual event brought people of differing nationalities and religions together to celebrate the holiday and promote a greater understanding of Hindu and Jain culture, according to organizers.“[Diwali] actually symbolizes the victory of good over evil,” said Lakshmi Raj grad, president of the South Asian Business Club. “Every year during Diwali, people worship goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth. It’s one of the most celebrated festivals of India.”The celebration began with a traditional Indian dinner catered by local restaurant New Delhi Diamond’s and a speech by Johnson School Dean Soumitra Dutta.The night continued with Indian dances, performances from a live band and a skit. The skit told the story of a traditional arranged marriage and how the couple fell in love over the Internet. The event’s finale consisted of a fashion show in which students and faculty modeled traditional Indian garb while performing Bollywood-style dance moves.According to Moulika Atluri grad, who participated in all of the night’s events, Diwali is typically spent enjoying the company of family, being thankful for the blessings in one’s life and spreading positive feelings. It is a holiday that is similar to Christmas in the U.S., Atluri said.“Diwali is one of the biggest Indian festivals: all the families, all around the world come together,” Atluri said. “We give sweets and clothes to our loved ones and also we try to share and give food to the poor and needy. It’s all about giving and taking.”Niru Prakash-Kumar grad, who choreographed dances for the celebration, said the event helped her connect to memories of celebrating Diwali in India.“Back in India, we do everything as a community, including Diwali, I missed that for a long time,” Prakash-Kumar said. “Seeing 200 people come together to celebrate something is making me both nostalgic about India and very happy.”Although the night did not exactly follow the traditional celebration of Diwali, which is customarily a five-day festival, some attendees said the event helped them gain a better understanding of Indian culture.“I knew nothing about [Diwali] until I joined this faculty, and learning about it has been one of the great privileges of being here,” said Risa Mish ’85 J.D. ’88, faculty director of the accelerated MBA and Johnson Leadership Fellows programs.Jamie Hunt grad, who had never celebrated Diwali before enrolling in the Johnson School, said he has begun to grasp the importance of the holiday through his experiences at the Johnson School’s annual Diwali celebration.“For me, Diwali has meant celebrating with other friends and learning what is important to them,” Hunt said. “It doesn’t have any grander meaning yet, but maybe that will change tonight.”

Original Author: Alexa Davis