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UNC group's annual Diwali Night celebrates light, joy and culture

Diwali Night 3.heif
Photo Courtesy of Aayas Joshi

Hundreds of excited guests wearing lehengas, kurtas and sarees  were full of anticipation on Friday night, lining up outside the Great Hall for UNC Hindu YUVA’s 12th annual Diwali Night.

The banquet hall of the Student Union was at full capacity for the sold-out event. 

Attendees were met with a slew of activities to celebrate the Indian holiday — including painting diya, small oil lamps that light up Diwali celebrations; rangoli crafts reminiscent of the sand paintings used as Diwali decorations; and a henna station.  

With two sets from Chai Town, an a cappella group from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and four energizing dance shows from Tar Heel Raas, Ek Taal, Bhangra Elite and YUVA’s own members, the night was filled with captivating performances and contagious cheers.

YUVA's executive team worked for months to prepare. 

“Just about every member was there helping in some way, shape or form,” Atharva Vispute, the co-president of YUVA, said. “By the end of the night, it was a family.”

Diwali is a holiday celebrated throughout India and the Indian diaspora. It is known as the festival of lights and prosperity, and symbolizes the victory of light over darkness and good over evil. 

Avanish Bharadwaj, who attended the event, explained that he celebrates Diwali with his family by cleaning his home, lighting diyas and exchanging gifts.

“Just a really tiny lamp can't really give off a lot, but when they all come together, when the community comes together, it illuminates the entire city,” Bharadwaj said.

Diwali is a time to dress up, eat food, make rangoli, watch firecracker shows and often celebrate the Hindu goddess Lakshmi.

“No one can sleep,” Shrey Davuluri, a YUVA member who has experienced Diwali night in India, said. “The whole country is bursting [fire]crackers. The food is always, obviously, the main event.”

The event was catered by Momo’s Master Himalayan Bistro, located off of Franklin Street. They served many classic dishes and desserts including samosa and chutney, naan, paneer butter masala, channa, gulab jamun and mango lassi.

While some holidays in India are region- or religion-specific, Diwali festivities are celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists across South Asia.

“In India, everyone — all religions, all ethnicities — they all celebrate together,” Davuluri said.

Events like Diwali night or UNC Holi Moli, which celebrates the festival of colors, have been important to Bharadwaj, allowing him to connect with his cultural heritage on campus. In addition to the dance performances, Bharadwaj enjoyed participating in the dance party that wrapped up the night. He said many of the songs brought him back to his childhood.

“Diwali brings everyone together, even over the shared interest of a song,” he said.

Shashank Vanga, the co-director of the event, complimented the performers of the night, specifically thanking Chai Town who traveled from Illinois. 

During the performances, dancers and singers used both Bollywood and American songs, often mixing their sounds into one.

“The dance groups are always super consistent,” Vanga said. “They always bring the top-notch quality that they try to strive for.”

Vanga has committed a lot of time in recent months to make sure the event ran perfectly. He attended his first UNC Diwali night as a first-year at UNC, after which he quickly joined YUVA.

“There's always that sense of belonging,” Vanga said. “I can call YUVA mine. I can call our members my people. That is what makes me so inclined to keep coming back and keep being excited about YUVA.”

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Vispute said he is lucky to come from a very rich culture and hopes to bring joy in celebrating Indian heritage to other groups on campus. 

“Getting to share Diwali night with people that might not know it previously is the reason that we continue to do this,” Vispute said.

@dthlifestyle |

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