Diwali, the festival of lights, is a major cultural event for Indian communities around the world. During the five-day celebration, families illuminate their households with oil lamps and candles and come together to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity. Traditionally, the McGill Indian Student Association (ISA) would host a Diwali party as a means to kick off the Indian New Year. The event is important to McGill’s Indian community, and the inability to host an in-person gathering is undoubtedly a major disappointment. Starting on Nov. 8, the ISA began hosting a week of virtual events to bring people together despite the physical setbacks.
Sannah Ratra, U2 Arts and ISA Vice-President Communications, commented on the importance of Diwali as a social event that connects those who celebrate it. For university students who have moved away from their families, the virtual event provided a unique opportunity to embrace their culture with new people.
“Diwali to us means celebration and time with our loved ones,” Ratra wrote in a message to The McGill Tribune. “Even though most of us are so far away from home, we have tried to make our members feel closer to home by hosting these events.”
The ISA faced a new set of challenges while attempting to offer the full experience of Diwali virtually. Crucially, they considered time zones and Zoom fatigue in their decision to break up what is usually a longer event.
“This year we decided to host [a] Diwali week where we had a bunch of events all through the week,” Ratra said. “We started on Sunday with Bollywood Trivia on Zoom, we had ‘Cook with ISA’ on Monday on Zoom where we made chickpea curry (Chole) and Rasmalai shots. On Tuesday we had a live Zoom where we did a Bhangra workshop and today [Nov. 13] we hosted a Yoga workshop also through Zoom.”
The ISA’s virtual celebration for Diwali provided an impressive range of activities to make students feel welcome, especially as many Indian students can feel homesick during this time of the year. Notably, the decision to include a cooking workshop as a part of their itinerary was true to the traditions of the festival and gave students a chance to enjoy the food they may have eaten at home with their loved ones. A Diwali celebration by tradition involves family feasts, and any Diwali week would not have been complete without a warm meal.
The Bhangra workshop was similarly important because Bhangra, a traditional form of dance popular in India, is an integral part of Indian party culture. The workshop reminded students of the energy of an in-person party and also gave participants a chance to blow off steam and move their bodies. With prolonged hours spent indoors, a few minutes dedicated to moving around can be a good way to relieve stress and bring joy. This is especially important for students during Diwali as no New Year’s celebration feels complete without dancing among friends and family. The ISA did a great job in bringing together the Indian community at McGill, giving students the opportunity to start the new year with some new friends.
The ISA has shown that even though students may be far apart during these difficult times, we can be close together in spirit. The virtual Diwali celebration was a stellar example of maintaining unity during the holidays, despite the tough circumstances.
Photos of the event can be found on the ISA’s instagram page (@isamcgillu).