Autumn means something different for everyone. Some people think of horror movies and trick-or-treating, while others associate it with football and a big Thanksgiving feast. A few even see it merely as prep time for winter holidays.
In South Asia, though, autumn is synonymous with Diwali.
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a major holiday that takes place sometime during October or November every year, depending on the lunar cycle. Many members of the campus community celebrate Diwali and eagerly await its arrival each year. In anticipation for the festival, Ramapo College held a celebration last Thursday, complete with Indian food, dance and of course, lights.
Students and staff piled into Friends Hall to celebrate. At first, the room appeared to be pitch black, but upon entering, attendees saw that the room was illuminated by dozens of battery-operated candles dispersed strategically around tables and on the stage. Seats began to fill up almost immediately as guests waited for the festivities to commence.
Professor of Communications Ruma Sen kicked off the celebration with a brief background of the festival.
"[Diwali] is considered the triumph of good over evil, and we could use a little of that in the world today," said professor Sen.
No Diwali celebration is complete without dancing, though. After professor Sen completed her opening remarks, advisor in the nursing program and organizer of the event Asha Mehta introduced Sohail Rawal and his dance troupe to the room.
“No matter whether you’re from Northern India, Central India, South India, everyone celebrates Diwali and celebrates it in a very happy and spiritual way, so the end of the night always ends with dancing, with music, with friends,” said Rawal.
“As with all religions and all nationalities, dancing is the best way to spend times with friends and have fun.”
Rawal’s troupe consisted of five other members, Vandana Kataria, Surabhi Goyal, Sudha Kanwar, Jasbir Dhaliwa and Ree Chawla. Dhaliwal stated that the troupe is devoted to learning Indian dances, especially those of Northern India. For the event, the troupe performed the Punjabi dance, Bhangra.
“The term Bhangra means to be intoxicated with joy,” explained Rawal. “So, you're going to see a lot of smiling – a lot of high energy.”
Rawal delivered on his promised. He and his trouped jumped, pranced, stomped and clapped, moving their entire bodies in sync to a mixture of American and Punjabi music. Though their dance moves were complex, smiles remained on each members face.
After they completed their first dance, the troupe members ventured into the crowd to get audience members out of their seats. Left alone on stage, Rawal encouraged everyone to get up and learn the dance with him. Though intimidated, attendees were soon on their feet, ready to join in on the fun.
Rawal explained that Bhongra is generally a “post-harvest dance,” and therefore many of the moves pertained to the harvest. He taught the audience how to move their feet and sway their hands to resemble “wheat flowing in the wind.” Pretty soon, everyone was dancing along to a version of Drake’s “In My Feelings,” looking like a plain of flowing wheat.
Rawal continued to teach more advanced moves to listeners, while the rest of the guests dashed to get a plate of delicious authentic Indian food, which was catered by Manjal, an Indian restaurant from Fair Lawn. Indian sweets were also provided from Edison Indian restaurant Mithaas.
“The most important part of Diwali is the food and the sweets,” said Sen.
Many Ramapo students, staff and faculty have South Asian roots, and thus hold a special place in their hearts for the festival of lights. Numerous international students are used to being home for Diwali, so being in Mahwah over the holiday can elicit feelings of homesickness for many.
Though Ramapo’s Diwali could never compare, it offers a semblance of the celebration so many Ramapo community members love.
Sophomore Prativa Parajuli, an international student from Nepal, stated that while Ramapo’s Diwali celebration took place earlier than the holiday’s actual date, it still made her feel at home for a bit.
“It’s good to be able to feel like home away from home,” said Parajuil. “This Diwali celebration did that exact thing, as we were able to celebrate one of the biggest festivals from back home with friends and faculty here.”