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SASA celebrates Diwali Night

When Iowa State University’s Bhangra Indian dance group hit the Sheslow Auditorium stage, the audience hollered and cheered as soon as they recognized the familiar “6 foot 7 foot” Lil’ Wayne tune.

It was Diwali night, and all dance and song performances brought a unique charisma to the stage, mixing modern hip-hop with traditional Indian music.

The event was put on by the South Asian Student Association, headed by senior President Toral Soni. Essentially, Diwali is the Indian Christmas.

“It’s a time of reflection, celebration and for families to spend a lot of time together,” Soni said.

The tickets were $7, and all proceeds and donations benefited the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, whose mission is “to adequately develop the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children of India’s ‘lowest caste’ by providing them world class education and instilling globally shared values to enable them to aspire to careers and professions of their choice,” according to the organization’s website.

“It’s really a cool school that we’re raising money for,” said junior SASA Vice President Ankita Dhussa. “And it’s great that the Drake community can learn about the cause and also Diwali, which is such a big part of South Asian culture.”

SASA has been planning the event since the summer. Dhussa said this is the first year that SASA has put on the event without outside help. Last year they had partnered up with the Malaysian Students Association.

“The budget got pretty tight towards the end,” Dhussa said. “But we went with as much as we could because the better of a show we put on, the more donations we could get.”

The four performances included a capella Drake University TrebeleMakers, ISU’s Bhangra and Dhamaal and Dangeraas, both from the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Following the show, attendees were invited to an Indian dinner at Parents Hall in Olmsted, including dishes such as vada with chutney — a savory fritter-type snack from South India; butter chicken — chicken marinated overnight in a yogurt and spice mixture; and a dessert, gaja halva — a traditional South Asian sweet made with carrots and nuts. The food was all catered by Sodexo.

According to Dhussa, SASA did make improvements since last year’s Diwali night.

“We definitely started advertising a lot earlier,” she said. “We got the word out as fast as we could. There was definitely a greater variety of people who attended, and we reached out far more community-wise.”

In fact, the majority of the audience was not Indian.

“We try to reach out to as many people as we can to come to Diwali night since Drake doesn’t have a bigpopulation of South Asians,” Dhussa said. “It’s always nice to see new faces at our events.”

Before attending the event, first-year Kyle McNett was unsure of what he was in for.

“I figured it’d be an informational, cultural event that I wasn’t excited about,” he said.

But after experiencing Diwali night with an Indian friend of his, first-year Jane Thottiyil, McNett left with a different idea.

“I thought the performances were really good,” he said. “I didn’t know what to expect before because I’ve never seen that type of dancing. But it was impressive to see them dance to that mixture of modern music and traditional Indian music.”

This was Diwali night’s third celebration at Drake, and it will continue next year, but for Dhussa, this was her last.

“It’s bittersweet for it to end since I’ve been planning so long,” she said. “But I hope people enjoyed the show. It went really well.”


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