From The Occidental: Diwali Dinner lights the way for Occidental community

Students gathered on the Quad for a Diwali celebration event

Diwali dinner, hosted by the South Asian Student Association, brings the community together with Indian food, dance, art and stories of what the celebration means to students.

This article was written for and originally published in The Occidental, the independent student-run newspaper at Occidental College. Read this article and more coverage online at theoccidentalnews.com.

By Hunter Gries

String lights and electric candles decorated the steps the steps of the Arthur G. Coons Administrative Center (AGC), and the line for food went all the way to the Mary Norton Clapp Library. Occidental South Asian Student Association (SASA) transformed the space for the celebration of Diwali Nov. 5. Diwali, a five-day festival observed by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, was celebrated worldwide Nov. 2–6. With more than one billion people celebrating Diwali globally, festivities differ based on region and religion, but the holiday is usually celebrated as a festival of lights, symbolizing the victory of light over darkness.

Diwali honors a Hindu mythological hero named Rama, who defeated the dangerous king Ravana. The villagers of Ayodhya, an ancient city in India, lit a path for Rama to come back home and join them in celebration. Sanjana Singh (senior), co-president of SASA, said in modern times, Diwali is still celebrated with lights and brings people together.

SASA e-board member Raveena Dhiman (senior) said she always celebrates Diwali with family and friends by eating sweets and saying prayers.

“We get together with family and friends and we say some prayers to bring in good luck, prosperity,” Dhiman said. “And then we just light up the whole house with lights and candles.”

According to SASA e-board member Raina Pahade (sophomore), the pandemic impacted the way they celebrated Diwali with their extended family, but they made the best of the situation by celebrating through Zoom. Pahade said they were excited to celebrate with SASA and the Occidental community in person this year.

“My family is definitely more lowkey when it comes to the celebrations, so being in something where it’s a little bit more formal, where we get to dress up and have this whole event — I’m really excited for it,” Pahade said.

Before the event, Dhiman said she was looking forward to spending Diwali with students who do not typically celebrate the holiday, because it would give SASA the chance to share elements of their culture.

“I’m excited to spend it with friends and students just because it’s a different dynamic than with our family back home,” Dhiman said. “Spending it with students who aren’t familiar with this holiday I think will be really eye opening for them just because it is a really important celebration to a lot of South Asians. So it’s kind of spreading our culture in a sense.”

The Diwali celebration featured elaborate Rangoli chalk designs on the AGC steps, Indian music and a Henna tattoo station. SASA provided Indian food including basmati rice, naan, daal and chicken tikka masala. The celebration also featured announcements, where SASA members elaborated on the significance and meaning of Diwali, and a dance performance.

Singh said she appreciated the opportunity to help coordinate the event, even though that it was a lot of work.

“I think it’s really nice to show people how much effort goes into things like festivals that ethnic cultures put on,” Singh said. “I think that people don’t recognize how much work goes into it and how much community is born out of that. And so then being able to experience that and see what people do to be able to have those things matters a lot to me.”

Meera Patel (first year) said she celebrates Diwali at home and enjoyed the familiar aspects of the dinner on campus.

“It’s familiar. I know the music, so it’s kind of cool to hear it, and I like all the artwork. It’s really cultural,” Patel said.

Eason Nishioka (senior) also said the inclusivity and sense of community were his favorite parts of the event.

“I think the sense of community is special,” Nishioka said. “Even though everyone’s not Desi American, they’re still able to come together and celebrate.”