Hindu YUVA celebrates Diwali with ‘Ramleela’ musical


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

“Wildcat Diwali Ramleela: The Story of Ram” ran Sunday evening to kick off Northwestern’s Diwali festivities. The holiday marks the return of Ram — one of Hinduism’s most worshiped deities — to his hometown of Ayodhya after defeating the demon king, Ravana.

Russell Leung and Charlotte Ehrlich

The Hindu holiday Diwali celebrates a number of values, according to Hindu YUVA first-year representative and McCormick freshman Aastha Patel — the triumph of good over evil, the burning away of negativity and the transition into a new year. 

Though Diwali is widely celebrated across South Asia, students on campus aren’t always able to fully commemorate the holiday’s traditions like they may at home, Patel said. 

That gap in cultural experience partly inspired Hindu YUVA, a Hindu cultural youth group, to host “Wildcat Diwali Ramleela: The Story of Ram,” a musical version of the Hindu epic Ramayana, at Cahn Auditorium Sunday. 

The club commissioned Mandala South Asian Performing Arts, a Chicago-based organization, to present its production of the tale. The event also marked the second-ever official Diwali celebration at Northwestern, following a ceremony and musical performances last year.

“We just really wanted there to be a place you can go to have an authentic feeling of what Diwali is like and have a feeling of home,” Patel said.

Diwali marks the celebration of Ram — one of Hinduism’s most worshiped deities — returning to his village of Ayodhya after his great battle against the evil king of Lanka, Ravana.

According to the epic, Ram, along with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman, is exiled to the forest by his father to repay a debt to Ram’s stepmother, Kaikeyi. Ravana kidnaps Sita in the forest out of lust, which compels Ram to rescue her from the demon king’s palace and vanquish him.

McCormick senior and Hindu YUVA co-President Sparsh Gautam said Diwali celebrations are tied to light in several ways, with the holiday often deemed as the Festival of Lights.

“The day of Diwali actually falls on a new moon day,” he said. “In order for (Ram) to find his way back, a lot of villages and kingdoms… had lit it up entirely so that he knew his way back to his kingdom.”

To honor the celebration of lights, McCormick third-year graduate student and event volunteer Mythreyi Ramesh said she helped decorate the auditorium with colorful garlands and diyas, or small oil lamps. The group also displayed posters in the lobby to teach attendees about the story of Diwali and the Ramayana.

Mandala performed the tale through instrumental music and without dialogue, so all audience members could follow the plot regardless of prior understanding of the Hindu epic. 

Gautam said Hindu YUVA partnered with Mandala for several reasons, but the performing arts company’s instrumental storytelling approach stood out to the club.

“We don’t only want to restrict this to Hindu students celebrating the culture, but also provide a platform and an opportunity for others to be educated and aware of the significance of Diwali,” Gautam said.

Before the musical, Hindu chaplain Amar Shah (Weinberg ’16), University chaplain the Rev. Kristen Glass Perez and McCormick Prof. Sanjay Mehrotra introduced the audience to the celebration. They discussed the importance of the holiday and performed traditions like lighting the first diya and reciting a holy mantra.

Ramesh said the Diwali performance motivated her to become more actively involved with Hindu YUVA. The event created a sense of camaraderie and belonging across the campus community that she hopes to see more at NU, Ramesh added.

“I’m just hoping that … everybody gets a taste of what it feels like to be in a festival environment that Diwali is,” Ramesh said, “and also learn more about the culture and stories that shaped many people’s childhood and even adult years.”

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Twitter: @charlottehrlich

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