Indian festival makes its way to USM


Caption:  USM Indian students hosted The Diwali Festival at the Wesley Foundation Saturday. This annual celebration honors the Indian New Year with traditional dances, singing and Indian cuisine. -Noe Cugny

A group of Indian students hosted USM’s second Diwali festival at the Wesley Foundation Saturday, celebrating the Indian new year with colorful dances, songs and food.

Diwali is known as the Hindu “festival of lights” and is celebrated in the fall of each year. This is also celebrated as the beginning of the business year for many Indians and is celebrated with bright lights not unlike Christmas lights, fireworks and rangoli, which are intricate designs made on the floor with colored sand, usually depicting a lotus flower. Revelers often buy and wear fine new clothes as well as exchange gifts and treats with friends and neighbors.

For many Indians, this is a special time spent with their family. And with almost 45 graduate and undergraduate students at Southern Miss hailing from India, there was a sense of homesickness. In 2013 a few students, led by graduate student Jananee Sivakami, decided to bring the festival to Hattiesburg and invite their non-Indian friends as well for a time of fun and cultural appreciation.

The event was a hit and continued to this year, growing larger and more involved as people from the community responded.

Gaurav Ghag and Sushmitha Vijaya acted as the hosts for the evening, providing fun facts about India and Diwali itself. Their playful banter introduced each show of talent performed by the local Indian community ranging from dancing to singing.

The event began with a traditional Indian dance brought to the modern day with a fun twist. Many other groups of students brought their best Bollywood dance moves and traditional regional dances, moving to hits like “Desi Girl” and “Baby Doll,” which Ghag joked to be the “national anthem of India.”

Several students brought their best vocal talents, singing love songs from hit Bollywood movies. Humorously Vijaya challenged Ghag to a dance-off, set to the tune of the overtly sensual “Baby Doll,” much to the amusement of the audience.

The night finished with a shared meal of Indian foods such as paneer, samosas and sweet gulab jamun. Students mixed and enjoyed the ethnic cuisine, reveling in the colorful saris, shalwar suits and tunics worn by the Indian community.

Vijaya said that last year, the event was smaller due to the students being unsure of how USM would receive the Indian culture, but that this year they chose to make it open to the community.

“This year, we went out with a bang and said, let’s invite everyone,” she said. Ghag said that he appreciated the turnout and how well the non-Indian community reacted to the event and spoke as to how the event began.

“When I came to USM, we (didn’t) have an Indian association.We had people doing Diwali in groups, but nothing on a large scale,” Ghag said. “All the universities had their Diwali nights, so we though we should (as well). It looks really great, I’m really happy as to how (it went).”