February 5, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 27°F


Students light up International Education Week with Diwali festival

The IC International Club and the South Asian Students Society held their Diwali festival on Oct. 23 in Clarke Lounge. Titled “Light it Up! A Festival of Life, Lanterns and Learning,” the event attracted people of several ethnicities and cultures to celebrate the symbolic South Asian tradition of Deepavali.

The event was part of the annual week-long International Education Week at the college, hosted by ICIC.

Taranjit Bhatti, secretary of the SASS, said Diwali is one of the most significant festivals in the Indian culture and is celebrated every year between mid-October and mid-November as a symbol of welcoming the gods into peoples’ homes. He said Diwali has its roots in religion but it has become embedded into the lives of virtually all people of South Asia.

“Diwali is a holiday that, regardless of religion, almost all cultures in South Asia — Pakistan, India, Bengal — celebrate it,” he said. “It’s not just for Hindus. I’m a Sikh, and we celebrate it as well because it is a shared experience where communities come together.”

Many legends exist for how Diwali began, but one of the most well-known tales is people lighting up the path for the return of the god Rama. Dhruv Padmakumar, public relations chair of ICIC, said this is the story he heard when he was a kid in India.

“[Rama] was exiled, and on his way back to his country the people lit the streets with lanterns to guide him the way because he was returning at night and there was no way of finding it,” Padmakumar said.

The celebration in Clarke Lounge had a lantern making station where attendees could draw colorful designs on paper bags and drop a small light bulb inside to create their own Diwali lantern.

Miranda Kaye, assistant professor in the department of exercise and sports sciences, attended the event because she said she wanted her two-year old son, Jeran, to have a fun experience. He smiled when asked if he was having fun and went home showcasing his glittery blue lantern he made on his own.

There was also a Rangoli coloring station. Rangoli is equivalent to a “welcome mat” in Diwali, Padmakumar said, and it is traditionally made with rice or flower petals, but because those were unavailable, people colored in the patterns to recreate the Rangolis.

In addition, there was henna drawing, which Padmakumar said isn’t part of Diwali celebration, but because henna is one of the most popular parts of Indian culture, they decided to add it into the program.

Nilshika Weerasinghe, president of the ICIC, said the event was open to everyone because she wanted those who weren’t familiar with Diwali to experience it as well.

“We don’t have a lot of international students, just about 2 percent of the college, so we thought it would be great to have this event open to the entire IC community so that people can get an idea of what Diwali is and celebrate it with South Asians, to whom this festival is native to, and with the rest of the community,” Weerasinghe said.

Senior Taj Harvey said he attended the event because he thinks it is important to learn about cultures that students don’t know much or feel comfortable about.

“I love that there is a desire for South Asian cultures to be celebrated because other people need to know that just because you don’t know anything about another culture, that doesn’t make yours superior,” Harvey said. “Once we get past the idea that because a person lives in a different part of the world that they must be good or bad, then I think we’ll be a lot closer to bridging the gap between our differences.”

Joe Byeon can be reached at ybyeon1@ithaca.edu