Stuyvesant Hosts its First Diwali Celebration

Stuyvesant’s first Diwali celebration featured authentic South Asian food and had successful turnout.

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By Geoffrey Huang

Stuyvesant’s South Asian community was treated to the school’s first Diwali celebration, almost fully organized by students. Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a holiday celebrating the defeat of the demon Ravana by the Hindu god-hero Rama. It is one of the most important celebrations in the Indian subcontinent, celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains across the South Asian subcontinent and worldwide. Over 200 Stuyvesant students, faculty, and staff gathered in the cafeteria after school on October 21 to celebrate.

Navaratri, another Hindu holiday celebrating the goddess Durga, was also celebrated at the event. The holiday is typically celebrated with a Garba, a type of circular dance originating in Gujarat and featured at the event. Both holidays are important to Hindus and celebrate their culture. “[Diwali represents] bringing light out of darkness, and Garba celebrates life. So they dance around in a circle, but in the center they have a goddess of reproduction and they celebrate birth and light,” senior and South Asian Media and Entertainment (SAME) Co-President Hepzibah Srithas said.

Senior and SAME Co-President Angel Sharma proposed the idea of mixing Diwali and Garba together to celebrate the festival schoolwide. “Diwali and Garba [are] like the two main festivals celebrated at this time of year,” Sharma said. “I came up with this idea of Diwali Garba because we’ve never done it at this school before and [in] many other schools, it’s never been actually celebrated.”

SAME, South Asian Youth Association (SAYA), Hindu Student Council (HSC), and school counselor Angel Colon began making arrangements just two weeks before the event date. SAME leaders originally planned for the event to be hosted by collaborating clubs, but after introducing the idea to Colon, they were given the resources to turn it into a schoolwide event.

By planning Diwali Garba, SAME, SAYA, and HSC aimed to expose the Stuyvesant community to this cultural holiday while unifying South Asian clubs. “While planning it was a lot of effort, it was so rewarding to see the experiences people had at the event,” senior and SAYA President Mariya Siddiqui said. “We saw people of all places trying our cultural food; we saw people being introduced to our cultural traditions like Henna.”

The organizers promoted the event through signage and morning announcements and also emphasized that the event was open to everyone, regardless of ethnicity or religion. “I saw a well-placed sign for the event above the entry of the second floor escalator,” computer science teacher James Dillon said. “I remember there was an announcement during third period.”

The event was open for students and teachers alike to enjoy. Dillon attended the celebration with his wife and son, Jaime. “When we arrived, the thing I noticed was how amazingly the dining hall was decorated,” Dillon said. “There were colorful balloons, festive streamers, and a beautiful backdrop for picture-taking that said ‘Happy Diwali.’ Students were dancing up a storm. I recognized some of the Bollywood songs I heard.”

The lunch staff’s assistance was instrumental in helping run the event smoothly and efficiently. “The lunch staff really helped out because they provided their kitchen to heat up the food, and they also provided us food like plantains, pineapples, and bread,” senior and SAME Director of Events Megan Chowdhury said.

Teachers and students lined up for plates of food served by club members and volunteers. “We had naan, butter chicken, [and] a lot of South Asian dishes like chicken biryani, samosas, [and] pani puri, and we also had Indian sweets,” Srithas said.

On such a tight schedule, the event organizers were concerned about the logistics surrounding the food as the funding they received was only for decorations and lights. “We got funding, but we didn’t get it for the food, so it was like a pot-luck type [event] where all the leaders would bring in food to contribute,” Sharma said. “People had to RSVP to let us know how many people were coming. At the end, it was like a whole bunch of RSVPs and we were like ‘Oh my god, do we have enough food?’”

Many attendees enjoyed the meals and event even if they did not usually celebrate Diwali. “I was the first in line for food, and the smell was amazing, it went all through the cafeteria. I’m really glad they held this event, because I don’t celebrate Diwali, and I’m sure the organizers had those goals of cultural exposure in mind, but mostly, everyone just had fun,” junior Deyan Reza said. “It didn’t matter where you were from, but you could tell it was important and meaningful to the kids who I know did celebrate.”

Dillon was impressed with the organization and turnout of the event. “Jaime was hungry so we got in line for food, which was provided free of charge and paid for by the South Asian Student Association,” he said. “Mr. Colon was expertly controlling the line. The food and drink was amazing! There was pani puri, biryani, and my wife’s favorite: chai.”

Some teachers also offered extra credit for students in attendance, driving many students to attend the event. “Mariya e-mailed Dr. Berman, who teaches History of the Islamic World, for an extra credit opportunity and he offered it to his class, and it brought so many kids to our event,” Srithas said.

The organizers were pleased by the turnout of students from all cultures. “It was so amazing to see so many South Asian youth there. But it was also so amazing to see other types of ethnicities and people there,” Siddiqui said. “While it is a South Asian holiday, our club works to maximize inclusivity and wants to just educate others on our culture.”

Overall, attendees enjoyed the Diwali celebration. “This is my first year at the school so this was the first Stuyvesant event I have ever attended,” Dillon said. “It was clearly student-run and centered. I was really impressed by how organized and successful it was. I’ll be there next year for sure.”

The organizers’ goal was to highlight an idea of representation and respect. “Our message to the student body was all about celebrating each other’s cultures with respect and realizing that everyone’s cultures and traditions might look different, but we are all the same in that we just celebrate things that are important to us,” Siddiqui said.