About 800 University of Michigan students and community members streamed into the Michigan Union’s Rogel Ballroom Friday night to celebrate Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights. Hosted by the Hindu Student Council, guests dressed in colorful kurtas and saris were greeted by flashing lights, booming Bollywood music and aromas of Indian food as they entered the event.
LSA junior Mihir Kesavan, Hindu Student Council co-president, told The Michigan Daily their Diwali celebration aimed to give students a chance to celebrate the holiday while away from home.
“(The goal is to) give people, especially international students who are away from home, an opportunity to celebrate in … the same way that they would at home with friends and family,” Kesavan said.
Public Health junior Arul Rajeswaran, the other co-president of the Hindu Student Council, told The Daily that this year’s celebration saw its number of RSVPs increase by about 500 people when compared to last year’s event. Rajeswaran said the ample turnout was likely due to increased word of mouth throughout the U-M South Asian community about their celebration.
“I think (it’s) because people came to the event last year,” Rajeswaran said. “People were already talking about it before we even started marketing, so I think that was a big reason we’re seeing an increase in turnout.”
During the celebration, almost everyone in the ballroom gathered on the dance floor, jumping and singing along to music performed by a live DJ and band.
In an interview with The Daily, School of Information graduate student Prajakta Bonde said she spontaneously attended this year’s celebration after hearing about it through friends engaged in Indian American student organizations. Bonde said she appreciated the opportunity to immerse herself in her culture on the U-M campus.
“I feel represented, I feel like I’m part of a community,” Bonde said. “This is the time where I can see people from my background, from my culture.”
Sonia Singh, a recent graduate from Eastern Michigan University, told The Daily she attended the celebration to spend time with her sister, Anisha Singh, a U-M undergraduate student. Singh said while she did not intend to dance at the event, once she saw the festivities, she couldn’t help but get on the dance floor.
“When I came, I was like ‘I’m not gonna get up and dance,’ ” Singh said. “But I went on the dance floor immediately.”
Since coming to college, Kesavan said he has sometimes found it difficult to maintain the religious and cultural traditions he grew up with, which motivated him to organize events like the Diwali celebration at the University.
“When you’re at home, you have all these religious practices that you do with your family — maybe your family makes you do it or you just kind of grew up with those traditions,” Kesavan said. “Once you go to college, it’s hard to maintain that.”
While Kesavan said their event did not completely represent traditional celebrations of Diwali, which are characterized by fireworks and light, he said he believed the Hindu Student Council was able to put together an event that established a sense of belonging and home.
“(Diwali) is a time to come together with friends and family, typically celebrate with firecrackers,” Kesavan said. “Of course, being here, it’s hard to do that. So what we do instead is have a gathering open to everybody in the University community with Indian food here and Indian music.”