Diwali celebrates South Asian history, promotes pride in diverse identities

An upbeat and celebratory event hosted by South Asian Students Association on Oct. 27 brought together many traditional elements of Diwali. Students of many backgrounds got in touch with their heritage here on campus.

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Across the globe, people of the Hindu, Jain, Sikh and some Buddhist faiths celebrate Diwali each fall. They enjoyed a week of honoring the triumph of their ancestors in the symbolic battle between good and evil. On Oct. 27, MU students were able to honor and share their traditions through a Diwali festival open to everyone.

Among South Asian cultures, different communities recognize varying origins of the holiday, but the story of Rama, the seventh reincarnation of the deity Vishnu, is commonly cited. His return from a 14-year exile symbolizes the prevalence of good over evil, knowledge over oppression and light over darkness. To commemorate this, families often perform cleansing rituals, decorate their homes, gather for feasts and light fireworks during Diwali.

The South Asian Students Association carried out many of these traditions and more at its annual Diwali celebration. Around 6 p.m., SASA opened the doors of Memorial Student Union to students and faculty wishing to take part in the festival and learn more about the holiday.

Guests enjoyed a lineup of presentations, crafts, a traditional Indian meal and a high-energy performance by Mizzou Masti. The Bollywood fusion dance team was enjoyed by many and drew sophomore Sevanna Rowland back to Diwali this year.

“I went last year and it was a lot of fun,” Rowland said. “I like watching the dancers and the presentation. It helps me learn a lot, being white or Caucasian, by going to different events of different cultures.”

Education about Hindu traditions and symbols was a predominant theme of the night. SASA Design Chair Puja Halder felt that having a hand in the event helped her become more in touch with this part of her identity.

“I started coming to more events and now I’m on exec,” Halder said. “There’s just a lot more opportunity for me to embrace my heritage and meet other people like me.”

Other members of SASA, including President Poonita Sheevam, echoed this sentiment. Sheevam has been involved with the organization since her sophomore year and always finds meaning in her ability to celebrate her heritage on campus.

“I made a lot of friends and felt like this was someplace my time and energy is worth putting in,” Sheevam said. “It’s great because it shows to me that people are interested in learning not just about me but about South Asian identity in general.”

Sheevam and SASA members worked hard leading up to the event, making sure everything from the table decorations to the meal was in order. Beyond the decorative and ritualistic aspects of Diwali, guests enjoyed dishes like a deep-fried vegetable dish called pakora and both chicken and tofu tikkas, which are variations of curry. All of these experiences were punctuated with lively fellowship, another important component of the holiday.

“I think that’s the most important part is that people see Diwali as an opportunity to have a good time, relax and enjoy what you have in the moment,” Sheevam said.

Following some acknowledgements and gratitudes from SASA, guests were invited to stay to socialize, dance or go back for seconds of their favorite menu items. The celebration is SASA’s largest production during the fall semester, and guests stuck around to enjoy its hard work until the evening eventually drew to a close.

Edited by Janae McKenzie | jmckenzie@themaneater.com

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