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Image courtesy of Sarah Afaneh

NYU Abu Dhabi Community Celebrates the Festival of Lights

On the night of Nov. 8, NYU Abu Dhabi’s West Forum lit up in celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, which commemorates the spiritual triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.

Nov 9, 2019

In the evening of Nov. 8, NYU Abu Dhabi’s West Forum lit up in celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, commemorating the spiritual triumph of good over evil, light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance.
Diwali, despite being a festival observed mostly in India and within the global South Asian diaspora, attracts hundreds of NYUAD students from every nationality each year, having become a staple of the university’s celebration of multiculturalism. This time, over 360 students and 91 staff members and contracted staff gathered to share a meal, enjoy dance and musical performances, and end the night by dancing away to popular Bollywood songs.
“This is one of the biggest celebrations on campus and one of the biggest Diwalis we have had so far,” said Doovaraha Maheswarasarma, President of TASHAN, NYUAD’s Association of South Asian Cultural Understanding and the Student Interest Group responsible for organizing the event every year. “Over 40 students volunteered to dance, with more than 10 students working all day to make it happen.”
The night’s programming included nine Bollywood dances, most of which were choreographed by Hetvi Shah, Class of 2020, in collaboration with Attitude at NYUAD.
“South Asian culture is closely associated with song and dance; everything, from how we celebrate our weddings to our popular festivals, has some element of it,” explained Shah, “It can be time consuming to choose songs and plan rehearsals, but seeing how students from across the globe come together every year to learn our dances and celebrate the festival makes it all worth it.”
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Part of the night also included a vocal fusion of North and South Indian languages, with Diya Gupta and Archita Arun, both Class of 2020, performing the same song in both Hindi and Malayalam simultaneously.
Every year, Diwali’s programming intentionally includes elements of the Indian diaspora to showcase the various ways the festival is celebrated across countries.
As a result of the displacement caused by British colonization in the beginning of the 20th century, around 400,000 Indians settled in the Caribbean Islands, creating one of the largest South Asian diasporas today. For this reason, TASHAN collaborated with NYUAD’s Caribbean Student Association to include a dance number from students from the region, mixing Indian and Caribbean culture.
“The Caribbean Student Association was really proud to be part of the Diwali celebrations, since it's a huge part of our culture back home,” shared Katerina Hansraj, Class of 2020, CSA’s head of events and part of the diaspora herself. “Even though the subcontinent is responsible for bringing the celebration to our region, it is not something that is exclusive to India; everyone celebrates it regardless of their background.”
Diwali celebrations at NYUAD do not limit inclusion to showcasing both North and South Indian cultures, but emphasize the importance of creating a space where every member of our community is able to celebrate. This extends beyond students and high level administrators, like Vice Chancellor Westermann and Dean of Students Kyle Farley, both of whom were present at the event. Given that most of NYUAD’s contracted staff hails from South Asia, Diwali is an especially meaningful reminder of home for many.
Hailing from Pakistan, Atif Mughal, a contracted colleague working for Serco, joined last night’s celebrations with his daughter, and shared the excitement of being able to celebrate Indian culture.
“My family and I really enjoyed last night,” said Mughal. “In order to attend this event, we have skipped all other plans and we even came an hour early to get a good seat and not miss any of the performances.”
Diwali is a product of joint efforts, not only from SIGs like TASHAN, the Caribbean Student Association and Attitude at NYUAD, but also from the Office of Student Life and even the Office of Social Responsibility, who contributed funding and organized transport for the university’s contracted staff, so that they may attend the event after their shifts.
“We wanted to include them because Diwali is at the end of the day about family and community, outside of national and religious divides,'' said Mahaswarasarma. “Our community isn’t complete without our staff members and colleagues.”
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Diwali is a night where even alumni come back to reminisce about their time at NYUAD.
“Regardless of you being a student or not anymore, there’s so much love filling the room and I felt that a lot last night, despite the new faces,” said Shanzey Altaf, Class of 2018, who choreographed Diwali dances during her years at NYUAD.
A gathering of students, alumni, faculty, administrators and contracted staff, Diwali is a reminder of the power of diversity that is celebrated in this community and one of NYUAD’s more dynamic ever-growing traditions.
Laura Assanmal is Senior Features Editor. Email her at
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