One of the most highly anticipated holidays of the year in India, Diwali serves as a kind of “reset”, or fresh start. It’s a Hindu celebration, also known as the “Festival of Lights”, and is associated with the Goddess Lakshmi, who is known for bringing people wealth and abundance.
Many gather to celebrate Diwali as a time when light overcomes the dark — a time of rebirth, culture, joy, and festivity.
Which is why, on Friday, November 2, a group of parents banded together at Curtner Elementary School to host its very first Diwali cultural show.
“Since we have such a big Indian population here, and Diwali is the biggest festival we have in India, we really wanted to build awareness around that. We wanted to show the fun and the colors and the culture behind it,” said Curtner PTA President Devi Sreepada, who helped to organize, choreograph, and design the show.
Featuring students from every grade level — K to 6th — the show included a variety of dances from the southern, eastern, western, and northern parts of India.
Swati Mainkar, whose child is in the 6th grade, was tasked with representing India’s west side; she worked with a group of kids on dance moves. “This was the first time for me, doing something like this,” said Mainkar. “The kids did amazingly well. The parents put in so much support. It was amazing.”
People’s interest in the Diwali show was apparent right from the start. When the PTA put the word out about the show, they had around 70 kids sign up.
“That was the biggest shock. Having so many kids sign up. At first, we were thinking of just doing one dance, but we had 70 kids,” explained Sreepada. “So we had the idea of breaking it up into regions and showing how Diwali is celebrated across the country.”
The students rehearsed over the course of a couple of weeks, for 5 hours total, and had 3 performances — 1 for kindergarteners, 1 for primary students, and 1 for intermediate students.
All dances were done in a traditional folk style, rather than the typical Bollywood style that’s prevalent today. And although the show was very much steeped in Hindu culture, non-Indian students were also a part of it. In fact, each dance performance had at least 1 non-Indian student in it. Sreepada was heartened by the fact that so many students from other backgrounds were interested in not only being involved, but learning more about Indian culture.
Anupa Punnen is from Kerala, the southernmost part of India. Her daughter, Rebecca, is in the 2nd grade at Curtner. When they moved to the United States 12 years ago, the Punnens left behind their native culture. As such, it was comforting to see it in action again, many miles away.
“Where I’m from, the Diwali celebration is very small. India is a big nation and in my area, there were only a few of them who celebrated…This show was really nice because even though we’re Indians, it was the first time my daughter was experiencing something like this,” said Anupa, 1 of 15 Diwali show parent volunteers. “For her to experience the Indian culture, I was so grateful…”
Plans are underway to do a 2nd show next year.