Columbia’s Indian community brings Diwali celebration back on campus

By Valentina Pucarelli, Photojournalist

Students enjoy plenty of delicious, traditional food options at the Diwali festival. Shane Verkest

Indian sweets, samosas and momos brought Columbia international and domestic students together to celebrate the traditional Indian holiday, Diwali.

Sankalp Tambe, a second-year arts management graduate student from India, helped organize the event. He said the main reason for the celebration at Columbia was so people do not forget their roots and feel a sense of togetherness.

“For us who come from India, miles and miles away from here, [we] never really thought we’d be doing school here,” Tambe said. “Now that we’re doing [Diwali] here, we’re just trying not to forget our roots.”

Several students gathered in the International Student and Scholar Services office at 624 S. Michigan Ave. for a small Diwali celebration on Nov. 9.

Diwali is the festival of lights in which families gather to celebrate life, health and wealth through a variety of traditions.

The celebration on campus featured traditional Indian sweets, snacks, music and candles for people to enjoy.

2019 was the last time Columbia held a Diwali celebration, and the event was one of Tambe’s first on-campus memories.

“My first memory of being on campus and meeting with other international students was this event, so more than just linking up with people, more than just networking … it feels like home,” Tambe said.

Students and faculty come together to participate in the Diwali festivities. Shane Verkest

Tambe and Monika Jaiswal-Oliver, an adjunct faculty member and academic manager in the Business and Entrepreneurship Department, began discussing an on-campus Diwali celebration this past summer.

“The major significance of Diwali is just spreading happiness,” Jaiswal-Oliver said.

Jaiswal-Oliver said because she was an international student from Badora, Gujarat, India, 23 years ago, she relates to international students at Columbia.

“We do miss home so I thought it would be nice to bring in a little celebration here at Columbia,” Jaiswal-Oliver said.

She said families clean and paint their houses, bless their accounting books and jewelry and cook homemade sweets in preparation for the main day of Diwali on Nov. 4.

“On the day of Diwali, they pack [sweets] in boxes and give it out to their families as presents along with other gifts that they have, but the biggest way of celebration is through prayer,” Jaiswal-Oliver said.

She said she doesn’t have any family in Chicago, so each year she tries to replicate the holiday with her husband and daughter by going to the temple and buying sweets.

“Keeping it alive is very important to me,” Jaiswal-Oliver said.

Steeve Dcruz, a freshman film and television major from India who attended the event, said having the celebration on campus is warming and makes him feel comfortable.

“It helps us better adapt to the school [student] body and all,” Dcruz said. “Diversification is actually a major thing here in Columbia so it helps us fit in.”