Friday, November 4, 2016

By Naomi Hofferber, The Daily Iowan 

For Ravjot Virdi, the director of formals for the South Asian Student Alliance, Diwali is a celebration of family and community in her home in Des Moines.

“A lot of the Indian families in Des Moines will all make Indian sweets at their houses, and to celebrate the festival, they’ll go to each other’s houses and give sweets to each other,” she said. “It’s just the idea of sharing, and we always get together with a bunch of people and do fireworks at the end of the day.”

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a cultural celebration as well as a religious celebration, and it is meant to emphasize the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. This festival is often lit with lamps, lights, fireworks, and candles. Gifts are also exchanged during this holiday.

While Diwali does have a religious significance, it is also important culturally.

The Indian Student Alliance, South Asian Student Alliance, and the Pakistani Students Association has collaborated this year for the first time to put forth a Diwali celebration different from those in the past.

“It will definitely be a lot bigger, a lot fancier — we’re going all out with decorations and food,” Virdi said. “It’s going to be really amazing that people from all three organizations will be there working together.”

The Diwali formal celebration on Saturday will offer an authentic vegetarian Indian dinner, a cultural showcase performance, and a dance party that runs late into the evening. This year has seen the addition of a dance floor, and a DJ from Des Moines will perform at the event.

“One thing that is great about this event is the emphasis of both the community members and the college students — all these different demographics — and how it appeals to all of them,” said Jordan Samuel, the Diwali head for the Indian Student Alliance. “The event lights up the community as the Festival of Lights.

“It’s really exciting, and it definitely highlights how this event is more of a cultural celebration than a religious celebration, because people of all backgrounds worked together to make the event a success,” Samuel said. “Each organization brings something new to the table.”

Usman Rana, the vice president of the Pakistani Student Association, said the collaboration among the groups allowed for easier and smoother planning, and it brings more diversity to the celebration.

“We’re attracting different groups of people with the different organizations,” Rana said.

Tickets for the event are $10 for the first 100 individuals, $12 for UI students, and $16 for general admission. The event will take place 5:30 p.m.-midnight.

Diwali will showcase cultural aspects from all three organizations involved and provide UI students and community members an opportunity to celebrate that culture.

“We want to tell everyone about our culture and spread awareness,” Rana said. “With your culture, you want to be proud of that.”