HUGs API Hosts Lower School Celebration of Diwali

Poly’s HUGs Asian Pacific Islander (API) parent affinity group hosted a Diwali celebration with Lower School during community time on November 13 with guest speakers who shared the meaning and traditions of the holiday.

Diwali is the Indian festival of lights, usually lasting five days. One of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, Diwali symbolizes the spiritual “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.” The celebration this year began on November 14. In advance, Varun Shetty P’33 and Nancy Bulalacao P’33 invited families to share photos of their Diwali traditions.

Bulalacao is a co-founder and co-chair of HUGs API. “Along with being able to meaningfully celebrate these cultural events with the students, we seek to advocate for and unify the Poly API community, as well as ally with the other HUGs groups.”

“In celebration of Diwali,” Bulalacao said, “we coordinated a program of short videos explaining the significance of the holiday, including a special read aloud, and featuring three artists, Amitava Kumar, Shelly Bahl and Geeta Citygirl, speaking on the specialness of the holiday.” 

Kimberly Davis-Rivizzigno P’35

Kimberly Davis-Rivizzigno P’35 welcomed Lower School students and teachers to the livestreamed Diwali celebration, which included video presentations. She introduced Shetty, who said, “Diwali is a very important celebration in India, a festival of lights.” He explained to the children that people light many candles and wear bright clothes like the red kurta he wore. It is a time of much dancing, he said. Lower School students were given a Rangoli pattern to decorate and a special Mango Lassi recipe to try at home.

Varun Shetty P’33

Davis-Rivizzigno told the children that Bulalacao had arranged for three artists to talk about Diwali.

Amitava Kumar, author of Immigrant Montana, recalled that as a child in India, he loved the firecrackers that were part of Diwali celebrations. He briefly told the children the origin story of Diwali, how King Rama was in exile for 14 years in the forest and, when he returned to Ayodhya, the people celebrated by lighting rows of lamps. Kumar said he remembered his mother’s face “illuminated by the lights” of Diwali.

Visual artist Shelly Bahl was born in India and raised in Toronto, Canada, and now lives in New York City. “Indians have taken their traditions to other countries,” she said. Bahl shared her artwork including images of dancers like those seen in caves in India.

Geeta Citygirl, the founder of SALAAM, the first South Asian American theater, arts, and film company in the U.S., showed the children a “diya,” the small lamp that is used to light the Diwali celebration. But she noted, “You need the darkness. Without the dark times, you cannot see the light.”

Shetty returned to read aloud the book, Let’s Celebrate 5 Days of Diwali, a story of two children who traveled from Chicago for the Diwali celebration in India.

“HUGs API looks forward to building on this event and making it a yearly celebration along with other Asian Pacific American cultural events,” said Bulalacao.

Shetty added,  “For me, it’s important to talk about Diwali because as new members of the Poly community we’re really excited to share some of the traditions within our family that we enjoy and value. Being able to talk openly and share this with others is so much fun for us.”