HBS Celebrates Diwali in Style

Over 300 HBS students, partners, and friends attended the South Asian Business Association’s annual Diwali celebration in the Williams room last Friday, October 25. For many South Asians, this event marked an opportunity introduce the HBS community to the vibrant and colorful festival that commemorates the Hindu New Year. For many non-South Asians, Diwali meant borrowing a friend’s lehnga or kurta, sampling a wide assortment of Indian delicacies, learning how to dance raas or bhangra, and boogie-ing the night away to techno-influenced Indian songs that sound conspicuously like today’s Britney or yesterday’s Madonna.

Diwali, “the Festival of Lights” is perhaps the most widely observed event on the Hindu religious calendar. For some, the occasion marks the return of Lord Rama to his kingdom of Ayodhya after fourteen years of exile and a victorious battle against King Ravana of Lanka, as depicted in the Hindu epic the Ramayana. Others welcome Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity, to their homes by lighting small oil lamps called diyas in and around their homes. For Indian farmers, Diwali heralds the coming of winter and the beginning of the sowing season; the festival is thus also considered the “Hindu New Year”.

“The event was a huge success. More than 300 people from HBS and various graduate schools attended, a 50% increase from last year. The Williams Room was beautifully decorated and it was great to see the non-South Asian dressed up in ethnic attire,” enthused Mr. Vikram Gupta (OG), one of SABA’s social co-chairs. Decorations included multi-colored sashes and a multitude of candles conveying the celebratory nature of the event. Attendees were treated to a lavish buffet catered by (who knew?) Restaurant Associates, highlights of which included the tandoori chicken and those wonderful gulab jamuns for dessert. According to the “Curry Paradise Glossary of Indian Spices and Cooking Terms” (www.kingchilli.co.uk/terms.htm), gulab jamuns are “small 1-inch diameter balls of flour and milk powder deep-fried to golden and served cold in syrup. Cake-like texture.” This stuff is available by the can, immersed in its sugary, syrupy goodness, at your local international grocery store in Central Square.

Following two heaping helpings of the buffet dinner and outright theft of his date’s gulab jamun, your correspondent proceeded to the center of the dance floor, where he was handed two dandia sticks, each about a foot long and wrapped in colorful ribbons. We were about to begin the dandia-raas, a traditional Gujarati dance that signifies devotion to Lord Krishna. Our able DJ’s corralled us into two or three large circles, while Ms. Dimple Shah (OE) and her friends taught us how to utilize the dandia to dance in our respective circles without damaging our partners’ knuckles. As I struggled with beginner’s dandia-raas, I watched as my Gujarati friends twirled and glided in the graceful manner to which they were accustomed since they were kids.

After a tour of the land of the dandia-raas, we traveled to the rice and wheat fields of Punjab, where we danced the bhangra, a popular folk dance traditionally performed during the farming festival Baisakhi, which commemorates the successful spring harvest. Bhangra is traditionally performed to the accompaniment of a dholak, which is basically a two-sided drum. The dance involves pounding the ground with one’s feet, snapping one’s fingers, and performing various acrobatic and balancing acts. Some of you may remember the crazy acrobatics we witnessed in the Williams Room! The rest of us sort of raised our hands in the air let our shoulders follow the beat. “Move your hands as of you’re changing a light-bulb!” I advised my friends. Hey, it worked. The dancing continued throughout the night as the dholak gave way to the fast, pounding fusion dance music that has catapulted bhangra music to international recognition, especially among expatriate South Asian communities.

Mr. Gupta, a management consultant by training, is all big picture and strategic vision. “The HBS Diwali Celebration is fast becoming a calendar event amongst the HBS community and, as it outgrows the William Room, my hope is to see it move to a larger venue downtown in the next few years.” According to Mr. Dinesh Moorjani (OB), one of SABA’s co-presidents, what is most important is that the event continues to attract HBS students of all faiths and ethnicities. “I was thrilled that all students, Indian and non-Indian alike, immersed themselves into a traditional Indian holiday, raising cultural awareness of South Asia on the HBS campus, one of three key strategic thrusts of the South Asian Business Association.”

Keep your eyes and ears open for information on Holi, the spring “Festival of Colors” SABA will celebrate the afternoon of April 27th on Kresge Lawn. Many thanks to Ms. Lisa Thomas (OC), for her role in making this Diwali celebration such an unqualified success.