Lehigh students, faculty, families and community members filled the Asa Packer Dining Room on the third floor of the University Center to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, on Nov. 19. There were singing performances, dances and a skit.
Known as the festival of lights, Diwali is one of the largest celebrations in South Asian culture. The holiday is observed in Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhism, symbolizing the triumph of good over evil.
Diwali fell on Nov. 4 this year and the Nov. 19 event was hosted by India Club, South Asian Students Association (SASA), Graduate Student Senate, Global Union and Lehigh After Dark.
Sahib Saini, ‘22, SASA president, said the Diwali celebration usually occurs closer to the holiday itself, but given logistics for venue, exams and to allow enough time for planning, they had to settle for Nov. 19.
There was a talent show, a presentation on the significance of Diwali and an arts and crafts station, Saini said. Among the activities available was a paint-your-own diya station. Diyas are small oil lamps used for worship in traditional Indian culture, Saini said.
“How we celebrate Diwali is more of how families can get together with a shared importance and expel bad energy,” said Satyam Patel, ‘22, SASA internal chair.
The festivities last five days, with the biggest falling on Nov. 4 this year.
Every year, Neha Paras, ‘25, said she celebrates Diwali at home in traditional Indian dresses and garments, bringing homemade baked sweets to neighbors with her mother. Paras is currently a member of SASA at Lehigh.
“I don’t have a community to directly give back to, but through this event it’s a lot easier to talk to people who share a common passion with me, and make me feel a little bit more at home,” Paras said.
The audience at the Diwali show was filled with individuals of all backgrounds. It was an event open to anyone interested, whether they are of Indian heritage or not.
“It always brings my neighbors and direct family closer to one another,” Paras said. “I think it’s a really good way to get to know the people around you.”
Prior to the pandemic, SASA staged large Diwali shows in the Zoellner Arts Center, complete with cultural performances and skits. There were typically over 300 individuals in attendance, Saini said.
“This year’s celebration is a lot smaller because we weren’t sure at the beginning of the year what November would look like in terms of the COVID situation,” he said.
In addition, Saini said the concurrence of the Diwali celebration with The Rivalry week made it difficult to book large spaces on campus.
In 2020, SASA was unable to organize a celebration due to COVID-19. Instead, the club uploaded a recording of its 2019 celebration to YouTube.
“It’s just something we look forward to,” Saini said. “It’s a chance for us to dress up. It’s a chance to be with people, be with your family.”
The SASA Dance Team and Infusion Dance Team each performed traditional dances in bright costumes.
Members of the Global Union and Graduate Student Senate sang Indian classical and pop songs in groups and solo for the audience.
To wrap up the program, members of SASA performed in a comedic skit. The performers played two Indian families competing against each other in Khandaan Feud, a spin on Family Feud.
Welsey Guarneri, ‘23, said his favorite part of the celebration was seeing all of the cultural dances throughout the event.
Guarneri was at Diwali supporting a friend who was in the skit.
“It was a new experience I hadn’t seen or watched,” Guarneri said. “I think it’s good that people experience a new culture that they’re not used to and I hope that they are more open to more cultural events like this and partake in it.”