Festival of lights: UK Indian Student Association celebrates Diwali


Samuel Colmar

Poonam Gupta poses for a polaroid photo at the ISA Diwali celebration on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, at the University of Kentucky Gatton Student Center in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Samuel Colmar | Kentucky Kernel

Nate Lucas, Reporter

UK’s Indian Student Association (ISA) hosted a Diwali celebration on Friday, Nov. 4, in the Gatton Student Center Ballrooms.

Diwali, known as “the festival of lights,” is a holiday Indian and South Asian cultures across the world celebrate. The day centers around the tale of good defeating evil and invites all who celebrate to triumph in this victory.

Sharath Marashima, senior civil engineering major, is an ISA member who participated in the celebration.

“It’s filled with lights,” Marashima said. “Everyone dresses up, you see me wearing traditional Indian clothing, and Diwali’s known for fireworks in India. Everywhere you go, every street, it’s people doing fireworks and family getting together.”

Diwali is a five day celebration. This year it fell on the dates Oct. 22-26. The ISA held its event later due to a reservation list for the Gatton Student Center Ballrooms.

The event began with the marking of the red dot, most commonly known as a bindi. Members of the ISA came around with a lit candle, as participants touched their forehead with its wax. It represents a light or blessing from God and is commonly worn during religious practices.

To begin the festivities, participants sang the national anthems of India and the United States. The event featured multiple forms of cultural dance and song.

Most dancers used the style of Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance that emphasizes worship and spiritualism. Some dance performances utilized popular Bollywood songs for their routine.

Shrey Patel, 16, and Smit Patel, 17, are both dancers part of Bollywood Group Dance from Lexington Temple. They originally performed the dance at their Mandir, the term for a Hindu temple.

“You’re a little nervous before, but when you get up there it’s pretty smooth sailing,” Shrey Patel said.

Both said their mothers got them into dancing.

After the planned performances, there was also the opportunity for attendees to dance with dandiya, decorative sticks used in traditional Indian dances. Dandiyas are most commonly used in the folk style dance of garba.

Ilavezhil Iniyavan, a graduate student studying forensic technology and analytical genetics, serves as the graduate student representative for ISA.

“(Garba is) from the state of Gujarat, which is Western India,” Iniyavan said. “It’s like celebrating God by dancing, which is really beautiful.”

This festival of Diwali held by the ISA marked the organization’s first big event since a hiatus due to COVID-19. Iniyavan was a sophomore at the last Diwali celebration unaffected by COVID restrictions.

“It’s been really interesting to be a part of the planning this time. Last time I just danced,” she said. “I think it’s really touching to see people from different backgrounds in one room celebrating this holiday, whatever their reason is.”

Participants wore traditional Indian clothing and ate authentic Indian food catered by UK Dining and local restaurant Taste of India.

Vincent Le is a senior digital media designer at UK. Le is Vietnamese, and this was his first time attending a celebration of Diwali.

“It’s like stuffing in a way,” Le said of the food. “It’s not really too unfamiliar to me.”

President of ISA and junior Naman Salvi said the event had been in the works since August and was the biggest one since COVID-19 restrictions. He said ISA aims to promote Indian culture and is open to anyone curious to learn.

“(For me) Diwali is a way to be connected with other people and grow spiritually,” Salvi said.