BYU South Asian Student Association hosts Diwali celebration

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The South Asian Student Association, a club which aims to highlight and celebrate the diversity and cultures of South Asia on campus, hosted a celebration of Diwali on Oct. 22.

The celebration in the Wilkinson Student Center’s Garden Court featured dance performances, Indian food, a henna station and Bollywood dance lessons. 

The club’s leadership performed a dance number, and attendees watched BYU dance groups perform traditional dances such as bhangra and bharatanatyam. BYU Bollywood dancers also performed at this event.

Before the dance performances and lessons began, President Kethura Byrd gave a short history of the holiday. 

Byrd said Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights that celebrates the victory of light over darkness. It is often celebrated by lighting several clay lamps, called “diyas,” throughout homes and in the streets to symbolize the eradication of darkness.

After the history of the holiday, the club’s vice president gave a traditional prayer in Sanskrit, which she explained was a hymn that was sung for one of the gods named Lord Ram when he returned from a victorious battle.

A group of BYU dancers performed the traditional dance bharatanatyam. The South Asian Student Association hosted its Diwali celebration in the Wilkinson Student Center on Oct. 22. (Trevor Myers)

Byrd has been involved with the club since 2019, and took a leadership position in 2021.

“This club has helped me to reach out and serve my fellow students on campus,” Byrd said.

Byrd proposed a name change for the club, which was originally the India-Nepal Association, after meeting and interacting with people from such diverse cultural backgrounds.

“On BYU campus, I met people from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and I felt we should change the name of the club to fit these people from different countries,” Byrd said.

Byrd said the club works to promote a sense of belonging for students on BYU campus and foster an understanding of South Asian cultures. 

Sahar Khan, one of the club’s event coordinators, explained the importance of having activities like the Diwali celebration to highlight so many cultures. 

Khan, who was born in Pakistan, said being part of the club helps her feel like she belongs. “Diversity is beautiful,” she said. “The more we learn, the more knowledge we will have and the more we’ll be able to accept other people.”

The South Asian Student Association’s leadership and members perform a dance for attendees. The South Asian Student Association hosted its Diwali celebration in the Wilkinson Student Center on Oct. 22. (Trevor Myers)

The club’s secretary, Emma Steimle, has been studying Hindi at BYU for four years. Steimle said she wants people to know that the club is not just for people with South Asian heritage. 

“I think it’s really important to highlight groups that are a minority at BYU and I also think it helps us to branch out socially and expand our worldview,” Steimle said.

James Wicke attended the Diwali celebration because her classmate was performing and had been handing out flyers. Wicke said she wants to return for more activities.

“They’re fun, and I’ll come to more activities if I learn about them,” Wicke said.

Club activities usually take place every other Tuesday and are often focused on cultural themes, such as art, culture and heritage of various South Asian countries.

Khan said, “I want to encourage everyone to just be open to other religions and other cultures, because every person brings their own strengths, but every culture brings their own beauty, too.”

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