Bhangra originated in the Northern state of Punjab in India, and is traditionally performed in a circle by farmers during the harvest season. It is a popular dance form in India and will regularly be performed at parties and celebrations. Photo credit: Aadil Naik

When 3 Peg by Sharry Maan started playing, a look of disbelief rippled through the throng of mostly Indian students in the Student Commons. It was immediately followed by incredulous acknowledgment and wild cheering. All inhibitions were immediately abandoned, pure joy and memories plastered on their faces, as everyone lost themselves in the dance.

On Oct. 20, the Students’ Association hosted the annual Algonquin College Diwali celebration in the Student Commons at the Woodroffe campus, filling the space with light, energy and the aroma of delicious snacks.

Diwali – also called the festival of lights – is one the biggest celebrations of the year in India. It symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, celebrating the day the Hindu deity Rama returned to his kingdom with his wife Sita after defeating the demon Ravana.

It is usually observed by members of all faiths in India and traditionally celebrated with fireworks, dance and food. Algonquin College has a sizable chunk of students from the region and every year the Students’ Association brings the celebration to them.

“I find it very important, especially for our foreign students who might not be able to go back home for holidays,” said Nakeya Francis, diversity and inclusivity events coordinator for the Students’ Association. “For them to feel seen and celebrated on campus is super important so they know they are a core and a great part of the community here at Algonquin.”

The celebration kicked off at 1 p.m. with a dance performance by Bhangrascape, an Ottawa-based group that teaches and performs a dance form popular in the Northern regions of India called bhangra. It is characterized by vigorous kicks, foot stomping and leaps accompanied with upraised thrusting arm and shoulder movements. It is played to the beat of a double-headed drum called the dhol.

After a few dance numbers, the group invited the rest of the attendees to join them, and everyone was happy to oblige. The dance party didn’t stop until 4 p.m.

Diwali is a very social festival for Indians and an opportunity to bond and spread good cheer. This event was a reflection of that spirit.

“It’s great fun, but it also reminds us of our culture and traditions. It’s a great perk,” said Kasha Deep Singh, a student in the business program, who came to Canada in May 2021, and is celebrating his first Diwali away from family. The last time he danced to bhangra music was at his brother’s wedding and he said this brought back all those memories. “I have no words to describe it,” he said, before running back to join the dance.

While the vast majority were from the Indian diaspora, there were others, too.

“These are moves I’ve never seen in my life, and I want to learn it,” said Francis Aikhuomon, a student in the computer systems technician networking program and a passionate Afrobeats dancer. He wasn’t aware of the event and was just passing by, heard there was a dance party and couldn’t resist joining in.

“I like it because it not only promotes dancing but it promotes culture and that’s what matters to me,” said Aikhuomon.

All around, people had their phones out smiling as they recorded the passionate dancers.

Applying intricate designs of henna on your hands is a popular tradition for Indians during festivals and weddings.
Applying intricate designs of henna on your hands is a popular tradition for Indians during festivals and weddings. Photo credit: Aadil Naik

Off to the side, Indian snacks like samosas and batata vadas were being served. The line to grab some of these tasty delights extended all the way to the Algonquin Commons Theatre. Further down, henna artist Shelina Syed was applying beautiful designs onto people’s palms – another popular Diwali tradition.

For the first time this year, the Students’ Association also had a Diwali celebration at the Algonquin College Perth campus on Oct. 17. It was a huge success, according to Francis.