Shining the Light Beyond Diwali
story | Terence Choo, Contributing Reporter
photo | Lavonna Mark, Staff Photographer
Diwali is an important event for many Yale-NUS students. It is celebrated annually. This year, it was held in Yale-NUS on Oct. 17.
As the night went on, more students began to throng the narrow passageway between the practice rooms in the performance hall, spilling out into the adjacent corridor. Lined with neon white fairy lights and LED flameless candles that spanned across the hallway, the entire venue was filled with an atmosphere of festivity. The Puja, a prayer ritual, had just been performed in Practice Room 4, where the floor was adorned with intricate patterns made out of colored powder or Rangoli. Nearby, a broken coconut laid on the floor, which indicated the start of the event.
Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, is celebrated every year to commemorate the triumph of good over evil, when Lord Rama and his wife Sita returned from exile after the defeat of the King Ravana.
Most of us might remember the celebration organized by the Yale-NUS South Asian Society (YNDUS) on Oct. 17, 2017, especially for the abundance of food from nearby supper haunt Al Amaans and the Desi mixer. The latter was a main draw for the crowd where an entire room was allocated as a dance floor, accompanied with Bollywood music and drinks served at the side. Word has also gone around that YNDUS spent a thousand dollars on the food, including cheese fries, butter chicken, and naan. Perhaps, because last year’s celebration was a huge success, there was much pressure on this year’s organizing committee to meet the standard that had been set for them.
However, the objective of YNDUS was never to turn the celebrations into an “all out party”, but rather to inform the Yale-NUS community about the significance of Diwali and giving us a glimpse into how the festival is celebrated in India.
“I couldn’t go home for Diwali because the tickets were too expensive and I felt [kind of] homesick. But being with the Indian community and helping organize the event made me feel like I was at home again,” said Ambika Madan ’21, who was part of team behind the celebrations. “It was typically the kind of things I would do back at home – put up the lights, eat nice Indian food, and all of that.”
Despite a similar turnout rate of approximately 400 students to the celebrations this year, Angad Srivastava ‘20, the co-president of YNDUS, said that there were still many things that the club would like to do to raise awareness on the socio-political landscapes and cultures of South Asia within, and hopefully, beyond the college community.
YNDUS was co-founded in 2014 by Sai Pogaru ‘18 and Anshul Singhania ’18 with that particular objective in mind. The name YNDUS is an amalgamation of Yale-NUS and Indus: the latter being an ancient civilization that spanned across the South Asian region. Being Indian-Singaporeans and raised as third-culture kids, they desired a platform in Yale-NUS where they could “engage with, showcase and explore our heritage with the broader YNC community”, Singhania said.
Understandably, YNDUS does not want to be known only as the student organization behind Diwali. This is a sentiment shared by both Angad and his co-president Shikhar Agarwal ’20. “We don’t want YNDUS to be known as ‘The Diwali Club’. We also organize the Ramayana: Unravelled talk, the Bollywood Just Dance and Jam, and the screening of Bollywood movies”, Agarwal said.
The screening of movies was initiated by Adarsh Puri ’21 who is an Executive Committee member, in a bid to increase awareness of South Asian culture. “It is about trying to integrate the South Asian culture and linking it into the academic aspect, in particular the Common Curriculum”, Puri said.
The passion within the members was also evident from the vision and plans that they have for YNDUS. Srivastava was involved in a couple of student organizations prior to this semester but he dropped all of them to focus on YNDUS. According to him, “being part of YNDUS has made me realize how much I value South Asia and being Indian, with all the good stuff that come with it. For example, I never used to watch Bollywood movies but now I have come to enjoy it.” If Puri gets his way, he would get to see YNDUS collaborating with the NUS South Asian Society to work on projects and events.
Srivastava sees YNDUS “being a consultant for anyone who plans to do anything related to South Asia.” To him, events organized by the organization should not be an obligation, a reason that they adopt a system similar to a non-government organisation. Everyone is welcomed to sign up and commit to an event that they are interested in as all of their activities are project-based. As Agarwal put bluntly, “we are not a brown-people-only society”.
Other than organizing the Diwali celebrations, YNDUS is currently in the process of getting guest speakers to talk about the India-Pakistan conflict and colonialism in South Asia, as well as hold panel discussions on freedom of speech in the region. YNDUS intends to organize an upcoming “colonialism week” that consists of a series of talks and events. As part of the theme, a cricket match might be held followed by a day of activities with migrant workers in Singapore.