‘Open the door for learning’: Students, faculty celebrate Diwali

Surya Patil (’25) and Meera Mahidhara (’23) perform a Kathak dance at Archer’s Diwali celebration. Patil and Mahidhara are both classically trained in Kathak and choreographed the performance.

Photo credit: Allie Yang

Surya Patil (’25) and Meera Mahidhara (’23) perform a Kathak dance at Archer’s Diwali celebration. Patil and Mahidhara are both classically trained in Kathak and choreographed the performance.

By Allie Yang, Columnist

Archer’s courtyard was filled with students eating samosas, teachers drinking mango lassis and the sound of Bollywood music to celebrate Diwali Oct. 20. Known as the Festival of Lights, Diwali is one of India’s most celebrated holidays and is rooted in Hinduism. Since its creation over 5,000 years ago, Diwali has expanded across the world and is now celebrated by over one billion people belonging to various communities.

Meera Mahidhara (’23) and Samaira Modgil (’29) led presentations to educate the community about the holiday. In addition, Mahidhara collaborated with other students and Dean of Student Life, Equity and Inclusion Samantha Hazell-O’Brien to create an all-school Diwali celebration. Hazell-O’Brien said she wanted to acknowledge Diwali to recognize ethnicities within the student body.

“Knowing that Diwali technically isn’t observed until [Oct. 24], it didn’t align with the C&C block in [the schedule] rotation,” Hazell-O’Brien said. “I figured if we could at least have education about it [and] the celebration on campus, students who celebrate Diwali would know that we see you, we want to learn more — we want to support.”

While Mahidhara previously celebrated Diwali with her family, she wanted to bring Diwali to Archer as well. She said doing so would raise awareness and educate the school community about her culture.

“I’m a proud person of my culture,” Mahidhara said. “I like celebrating it, and I like showcasing it. During Diwali… there [are] always performances in my community, so I wanted to share with my Archer community. A lot of people might know about chicken tikka masala, Diwali, candles or rangoli, but they don’t really know the history and the tradition.”

While Mahidhara valued the event for its ability to showcase her personal connections to Diwali, Senior Systems Administrator and Ed Tech Associate Banafsheh Salimi said she believed that the celebration also benefitted those who did not have previous experience with the holiday.

“It’s raising awareness, and people need to know about it because then [they] can connect with classmates [and] friends,” Salimi said. “It’s a way of learning a new culture. I think it’s good to open the door for learning.”

During the lunchtime celebration, Mahidhara participated in a Kathak performance with Surya Patil (’25) since both are classically trained in this traditional form of Indian dance. Mahidhara said the reason she and Patil choreographed a dance for the celebration involved overarching themes of Indian culture.

“To be part of the Indian culture, you have to be always dancing,” Mahidhara said. “You’re always partying or celebrating. It’s that very happy vibe [and] mentality that I wanted to share with Archer.”

Natalie Kim (’23), Maya Kakani (’23), Beyla Patil (’27), Shanti Seth (’27) and Samaira Modgil (’29) served food at the event: samosas accompanied by a sweet and sour sauce, fried rice cakes called papad, mango lassi and milk cakes. Though Mahidhara did not serve the food, she said she enjoyed seeing the Archer community try it.

“My favorite part was seeing everyone come for food. I loved how everyone was very passionate,” she said. “I mean, it is free food. But on top of that, they were asking, ‘What’s this? What’s that? What do you recommend?’…I could tell they were really engaged.”

Sophomore Kennedy Chow said she found learning to be a valuable component of the event.

“I’ve been going into it with an open mind,” Chow said. “I love learning about new cultures, and it seems [like a] very lively, fun event. I hope to learn more things about Diwali and…get more knowledge.”

Though the main goal of the Diwali celebration was to show specific cultures and traditions, Hazell-O’Brien said it also served as a reminder of broad life lessons.

“There are plenty of times where we are down in the dumps and can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Hazell-O’Brien said. “This celebration of light reminds you good will triumph over evil.”