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Diwali lights up stage with Southeast Asian culture

Glowing lights, traditional and modern Indian music and dancers clad in colorful saris and channia choles filled the stage for Diwali 2000, a two-day event put on by Diya and other students of the Duke community.

In Southeast Asian culture, Diwali represents an age-old festival of lights celebrating the return, after 14 years of exile, of an epic figure to his throne.

"It's an intense celebration in Asia with lots of festivities, eating, feasts and fireworks," said senior Shruti Haldea, co-president of Diya. "In terms of its importance, the festival of lights [in Asia] is like Christmas in America."

And for the Southeast Asian community on campus, this event, with about 125 performers, is equally important. Junior Tejas Shah, treasurer of Diya, explained that planning and preparation for this year's Diwali event began at their retreat before classes had even started.

"There, we go over all of our plans for the year," Shah said. "There's so much to prepare for, and [Diwali] comes up pretty fast."

The show, now in its sixteenth year, usually contains a variety of different dances, musical acts and fashion shows all accenting Southeast Asian culture.

"There is so much to think about and so we try to manage everything and delegate," said junior Sreelata Kintala, Diya social chair and Diwali co-chair. "I try to break it down into little things starting with dinner, which needs decorations, food, servers, tickets, and then I begin to think about the dances."

Diwali has evolved over the years as students of all ethnicities join the event.

"We pride ourselves on having multicultural, not just Southeast Asian, dancers," said senior Apurva Trivedi, Diya publicity chair. "Almost every racial group is represented in the show."

Likewise, the show is very popular with all student groups on campus and does not simply draw students of Southeast Asian descent as its audience.

"When it first started 15 years ago, it was more an Indian, South Asian event. But over the past two years, with the venue becoming Page Auditorium, it's really become a broad event," Shah said. "There's no set group of people that comes to the show."

Each year, Diwali has expanded the number of participants because so many students express an interest in the show.

"For Diya at Duke, Diwali is a chance for students to show their other culture, their other half, with their Duke community," Haldea said. "When you grow up in another culture, it's very important to synthesize [the old and the new]. It's a deep cultural tradition, and it's fun to be able to share it."

Before sharing their culture with the entire campus, there are many logistical issues to take care of, especially funding. Providing a free meal to 500 students, renting out Page Auditorium for two nights, using technical equipment, shipping costumes, printing programs and more begins to add up quickly.

Haldea explained that because it is so important to keep the event free to the public, they sought funding from any possible source.

"We try to keep it free because it's important for people not to be hindered [and] because it's such a learning experience for everyone involved, both the audience and the performers," she said.

Dancers said that the days leading up to the dress rehearsals were very hectic.

"Our practice schedules were crazy," sophomore Shivali Gotecha said. "It has to be perfect since it's one of the biggest events of the year."

But most of the participants agreed that it was worth all the time and effort to create this sold-out annual campus cultural event.

"Our goal is entertainment and to raise awareness for Southeast Asian culture and showcase multiculturalism at Duke," Trivedi said. "For everyone who says they want to raise knowledge of multiculturalism on campus... we are doing it."

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