ICA’s Diwali celebration was held at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta. (Jae Sun Kim)

If you walked down Asbury circle on Oct. 19, you would see a line that stretched all the way to the end of Cox hall with music booming as the Indian Cultural Association (ICA) sold its last remaining tickets for its first off-campus Diwali celebration in three years. 

Emory’s sold-out Diwali party at the Omni Hotel on Nov. 5 was filled with performances, food and celebration that showcased South Asian culture. The “Khanzana (Treasure) of India” themed event drew in 850 Emory students, professors and alumni. Dressed in saris and kurtas, guests were greeted by light refreshments and samosas before walking down a red carpet to take their seats in the elegantly decorated ballroom. 

The ICA Diwali committee, which includes Fareed Khan (24B), Shriya Iyer (25C) and Aryan Patel (25C), have been planning this event since May. Anya Kasubhai (22Ox, 24C), one of ICAs community engagement directors, said the Diwali team worked tirelessly through the summer to secure the venue and catering, find sponsors to finance the event and even worked with a decorator to ensure that every detail came to fruition.

For many ICA board members, this was their first time planning — or even attending — an off-campus Diwali at the Omni hotel. Last year, the celebration was held on McDonough Field to reduce the risk of COVID-19.

“Doing such a large off campus event this year was a whole other ball game, especially considering that most of us didn’t know what a Diwali at Omni looked like anymore because of COVID, ” Kasubhai explained. 

The evening’s program kicked off with performances of the American and Indian National Anthem by Ashwini Narayanan (26C) and Meghan Gupte (24C). The ICA board then took to the stage to showcase their own skills on the dance floor with choreographed routines to popular songs like “Jalebi Baby” and “Nach Punjaban.” After a final group dance, complete with accessories like sunglasses and even a couple basketball jerseys, the ICA board spoke to the crowd about the significance of Diwali. 

“After we finished the board dance, we all just looked at each other like ‘we are finally here, day of, so many weeks, and weeks of planning, so many rehearsals of the dance, and we’ve just finished,’” Kasubhai said. 

Diwali is known colloquially as “the festival of lights.” While it originated as a Hindu holiday that pays homage to specific gods and commemorates the story of Rama and Sita, today secular celebrations take place across South Asia. Diwali celebrates the prevail of light over darkness and good against evil through traditions that involve rangoli, diyas, gifts, family, feasts and fireworks. 

Following the introductions, attendees lined up for food catered by Cafe Bombay, a popular Indian restaurant in Atlanta. The dinner included Indian staples such as pav bhaji, kadai chicken and gulab jamun. Guests were also treated to a fresh dosa station, a clear favorite for attendees like Amisha Argawal (23Ox), who said she particularly enjoyed the palak paneer. 

As the final plates were collected, chairs emptied as everyone gathered around the stage to see Suri, Emory’s South Asian Fusion Acapella group, perform a medley of popular Indian and American songs, followed by an electrifying dance by Emory Karma Bangara. Other notable performances included dances by Zeebah, Savera, Oxford’s Nishana, Saraas and TrickaNomeTry (TNT).

 Sushmita Rajan (26C), a member of Emory’s nationally ranked Garba-Raas dance team Saraas, said the energy of the attendees was infectious during her team’s routine. 

“At one point we couldn’t even hear the music because the crowd was screaming so loudly,” Rajan said. 

Urvi Pruthi experienced that same energy as a member of the audience. When performances started, attendees rushed to the front of the room and surrounded the stage area to get a better look. 

“I went to the back and stood on a chair to watch because I couldn’t see, but I wasn’t the only one on a chair. Everybody was standing on chairs and watching the performances,” Pruthi (25C) said. 

ICA’s Diwali party was themed “Khanza (Treasure) of India.” (Emory Campus Life)

After the performances, guests joined in on the dancing and flocked to take pictures at the photobooth. 

Kasubhai said the event was “a great home-away-from home moment [with] everyone dressed in beautiful South Asian wear and the community coming together to celebrate South Asian culture.” 

In the week leading up to the celebration, ICA also hosted a Mendi night, complete with an assortment of Indian desserts and a Jewelry and Sarees sale at Wonderful Wednesday to raise money for Sakhi for South Asian Women, an anti-domestic violence organization. An ongoing initiative also including the club’s Nook Night, and the upcoming “Paint your own tote.” Himani Sirsi (25C), who is on ICA’s philanthropy committee,  said that they are hoping to achieve their fundraising goal of $1,500.

Iyer expressed gratitude for the donations from the Emory community and alumni. 

“This event could not have been possible without the resources provided by past ICA alumni and the meaningful support provided by the sponsors, friends, family and our advisor,” Iyer said. 

Even when faced with last minute changes, the Diwali team’s dedication, along with the help of the rest of the ICA board, paid off. With Diwali now in the rear view mirror, Iyer said she is excited for ICA’s other major upcoming events, including India week and Holi.