Making magic at the Diwali Showcase

The South Asian cultural festival of Diwali is a huge deal, and so is the Diwali Showcase. We sat down with one of this year’s co-hosts to find out why.

tds

Shun Ahmed

The TDS classical dance group poses outside Sarratt Student Center.

Aashi Gurijala, Staff Writer

Diwali, the festival of light, is one of the brightest times of the year for the South Asian community. Celebrated by many different cultures and religions—including Hindus, Sikhs and Jains—the festival signifies the return of the mythological deity Lord Rama to his kingdom after being exiled for 14 years to the forest with his wife Sita.

His triumphant return was viewed as a sort of spiritual and literal “enlightening,” and lamps, or “diyas,” were lit to commemorate the occasion. Diwali falls on a different date every year, and this year it was Nov. 4.

Traditionally, the festival is celebrated for a period of five days filled with fun, laughter and lots of light. Though every culture celebrates the festival a little differently, there are some notable activities that many partake in. For example, houses are lit up by diyas and are filled with sweets and fireworks! I personally remember turning on every light in the house to welcome Lord Rama into our home.

Because of its widespread popularity, it’s unsurprising that the Vanderbilt community comes together every year to host the Diwali Showcase (TDS) to celebrate the characteristic fun of the festival and spread that sense of community to those who are interested in learning more. This year’s showcase falls on Saturday, Nov. 6, at the Student Life Center Ballroom. We went behind the scenes to get the details on how TDS is organized, its importance and how students can get involved.

This year’s co-host of the showcase, junior Hershey Rajpal, shared valuable insight regarding the showcase. The event is one of Vanderbilt’s largest cultural events on campus, meaning there’s a tremendous amount of effort that goes into making it possible. 

“This position could be someone’s full time job,” Rajpal said. “I’ve probably put in 20 hours or more each week. It’s very stressful but very rewarding.” 

According to Rajpal, the showcase itself takes over 250 people to operate, including coaches and choreographers for the dances, the committee and board of operations, the publicity crew, ushers, dancers and guest acts. The scope of the showcase is only matched by its annual attendance.

“The whole ballroom is usually filled, so attendance is easily over 1,000 people, not including the dancers attending,” Rajpal said.

Due to its size, planning for the 2021 showcase began as far back as June of this year, with interest meetings for dancers and crew being held in the first two weeks of school. 

“Dancers get to choose what dance they want to do,” Rajpal said. “Kind of like shopping for a dance.”

Because of the grand size of the showcase and the amount of time that goes into preparing for it, the event fosters a strong community within the organization as well. 

“The dancers tend to become a new family because they meet twice a week for practice,” Rajpal said.

The golden question is: with all the work that goes into the showcase, what makes it so important for everyone involved?

“We all have been missing that sense of community for a pretty long time,” Rajpal said “I think this year, especially, having TDS happen at its fullest potential and fullest scale is really important because it brings together all those groups of people who couldn’t meet during the pandemic. It’s a step towards normalcy.”

With the tragedies and stresses of the pandemic, large-scale meetings or celebrations such as this were unable to occur, decreasing community morale. But not this year! The return of the showcase to “its fullest potential” (while still following university COVID guidelines) serves to show the South Asian community and all who seek to celebrate that students can always rekindle the spirit behind the festival and the sense of solidarity that accompanies it. The festival is not only for the Asian community. 

“TDS is more of a time to celebrate all of South Asia in general. And it’s the best time to share culture with non-South Asians as well,” Rajpal said.

At its core, the Diwali Showcase is a celebration of culture to be shared with anyone who wants to participate. We as a university pride ourselves on being a diverse and inclusive community—and all those involved in TDS remain dedicated to that cause.