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Diwali/Eid transforms gym

Students celebrate the Hindu holiday Diwali, the festival of lights, in Wiegand Gymnasium. (credit: Sanjana Baldwa/Junior Photographer) Students celebrate the Hindu holiday Diwali, the festival of lights, in Wiegand Gymnasium. (credit: Sanjana Baldwa/Junior Photographer)

The Mayur South Asian Student Alliance (Mayur SASA), along with the Muslim Student Alliance and OM, celebrated both Diwali, a Hindu holiday, and Eid al-Adha, a Muslim holiday, in Wiegand Gymnasium on Thursday. The actual date of this year’s Diwali is Nov. 13, while Eid al-Adha is on Oct. 26. According to Sanjana Padmanabhan, first-year chemical engineering major and first-year representative in Mayur SASA, “We’re combining [Diwali] with Eid because it’s around the same time.”

“Diwali is the festival of lights,” said Meghna Raghunathan, junior design major and president of Mayur SASA. “It’s a religious celebration ... of Rama bringing Sita back from Sri Lanka to India.”

Sruti Modekurty, a first-year electrical and computer engineering major who attended the event, went into further detail about the significance of Diwali for Hindus. “Diwali celebrates the return of a king who was forced into exile by his stepmother,” Modekurty said. “The king’s name is Rama, and he was in exile in the forest for 14 years, so everyone in his home town celebrated his return.... Diwali celebrates the return of him from exile and him taking over, becoming king again.”

Modekurty also described how Diwali is traditionally celebrated: “We decorate our front lawn with tea lights. And then sometimes we put up Christmas lights around our house, and we usually make sweets and dress up and stuff. And sometimes we set off firecrackers.”

Amulya Uppala, a first-year computer science major, shared how she celebrated Diwali at home. “There’s a lot of food, a lot [of firecrackers]. That’s the main part.... Basically, you have so many different types of firecrackers, you play with them the entire night.” Appropriately, Wiegand Gymnasium was strung with Christmas lights and decorated by electric tea candles spread across the floor.

Eid al-Adha is an Islamic celebration of sacrifice. Iman Mazloum, a first-year international relations and politics major and member of the Muslim Students Association, explained the religious history of Eid. When Abraham was told to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, “Abraham closed his eyes and struck down his blade, and when he opened his eyes, in the place of his son was a sheep,” she said. Mazloum explained that Eid usually involves “a charity of normally a sheep to those in need.”

The Diwali/Eid celebration kicked off with South Indian food catered by a local restaurant; a variety of booths around the room had games, henna tattoos, face painting, and other activities. The Mayur SASA and Muslim Students Association also had their own tables. Halfway into the event, the performances began, opened by the first prayer of the Quran, led by Mazloum, and another prayer led by the members of OM, an organization that describes itself as “an independent, nonsectarian forum for the education and promotion of Indian cultural heritage” on its website.

Following the prayers were exhibitions from Carnegie Mellon’s South Asian dance teams, including Carnegie Mellon Raasta — a dance team that practices the West Indian folk dance garba-raas — and Carnegie Mellon’s official Bhangra team.

Teja Shah, a senior biomedical and mechanical engineering major, did a solo dance routine as well. There was also a performance by Neel Kadkarni, a junior business administration major, who sang songs by a renowned Indian singer, Mohammed Rafi. Kadkarni was assisted by Tejavir Singh Rekhi, a first-year art major, on the tabla. The last performance of the event was by members of the executive board of Mayur SASA, who all danced to an Indian remix of PSY’s “Gangnam Style.”

Although Diwali and Eid al-Adha are still upcoming, the celebration in Wiegand Gymnasium captured the spirit of the holidays for Cèilidh Weekend. As Padmanabhan said, it was a great time “just to bring everyone together.”