The George H. Clark Gymnasium is known for hosting tiger basketball and volleyball games. However, on the night of Oct. 6, 2019, the gymnasium was bustling with activity different from the typical sporting events.

The sound of music filled the air, the smell of cultural food replaced the typical nightly scents and the smiles of people in vibrantly colored clothing populated the evening.

The Dandiya celebration was in full swing.

Dandiya and OASIS

The RIT Organization for the Alliance of Students from the Indian Subcontinent (OASIS) is a student-run cultural group that organizes the annual Dandiya celebration. It's their largest event among the ones that they host. The OASIS group has five officers and a 15-student populated executive board.

Bhuvish Mehta, a fourth year Computer Engineering major, serves as the president for OASIS. He was especially excited about this year’s celebration, as it was the largest turnout for Dandiya that the organization has ever recorded. While many participants were familiar with Dandiya, students from outside of the Indian community who were unaccustomed to the festival were invited and welcomed to participate in the celebration.

“Regardless of what your religion is, everyone comes together, and you dance," Mehta said.

"Regardless of what your religion is, everyone comes together, and you dance."

The Dandiya celebration praises the defeat of evil in the world. Dandiya is celebrated at this time of the year all over the globe by members of the Indian community. The event held at RIT was just one of the many celebrations occurring in the area.

Celebrators, dressed in vividly colored traditional garb, danced with raas sticks to music around the goddess Durga. The dancing was accompanied by food, communal prayer, friendship and welcoming conversation. Dandiya is part of a larger autumnal festival called Navaratri, a spiritual celebration that traditionally spans over a nine-day period. While the one-night Dandiya celebration on campus is shorter than other celebrations, it is still an eagerly awaited event.

The celebration drew over 300 participants consisting of students from RIT and neighboring universities, as well as members from the greater Rochester community. It drew more high-profile attendees as well. RIT welcomed Mugdha Ghaisas, the education associate for the Indian Consulate General in New York City, to the campus. She gave a short speech to the festival’s attendees and interacted with RIT students throughout the course of the evening.

Why RIT?

RIT is well-known for having one of the largest populations of international students in the area. Students sometimes struggle with the rigors of being a new or returning college student, dealing with life away from home on campus. Being a student, in a new country, apart from your culture is an even greater challenge to overcome while pursuing your studies as an international student.

The OASIS group on campus seeks to help students feel more welcome by bringing a piece of home to the many international students attending RIT. Classes can be time-encompassing and demanding, especially for students attending their first year of college. After the initial brunt and chaos of first semester classes wanes away, many students realize how much of home they truly miss.

Varnit Tewari, a fourth year Computer Science major and former president of OASIS, spoke to the truth of hardships for international students. He also explained how OASIS events such as the Dandiya festival can help students celebrate their culture here on campus.

"After 60 days of coming from India, it starts hitting that [students] are missing their country," said Tewari.

He also said that the event is not solely reserved for international students struggling with the hardships of being away from home. He emphasized what Mehta stated earlier: any member of the tiger community, who wants to explore something different and make new connections with their fellow students, is welcome to attend Dandiya and any other events in the future.

“Who doesn’t like entertainment? Who doesn’t like dancing? ... People enjoy the festival, that’s how people become open-minded about celebrating each festival together," Tewari said.

Dandiya 2019 Concludes

As the night grew older, more students arrived to participate. The Clark Gym filled with celebrators who rhythmically danced to the beat of the music reverberating off the walls.

When 9 p.m. approached, Mehta took to the stage and invited all participants to join him in the center of the gymnasium for a ceremony. Dancing ceased and was replaced with a more communal gathering around the impromptu and eco-friendly temple of Durga. Candles were lit, prayers were sung and at the conclusion of the ceremony, students gathered together to share a meal. Afterwards, students were given a chance to connect with professors, community members, event organizers and others apart from the dancing that had encompassed most of the night.

For some students, Dandiya is a cherished celebration that plays an important part in their life and religion. However, Dhruv Rajpurohit, a second year Computer Engineering major and e-board member for OASIS, reinforced the reoccurring idea that Dandiya is an event that goes beyond religion.

“Every festival is significant for Indians ... regardless of what religion you are … come together, enjoy the time,” Rajpurohit said.

At RIT, Dandiya is not a cultural celebration reserved for a select community — it is much more. Dandiya is a chance for people from all parts of the community to come together, be cheerful and to celebrate the banishment of evil from life. Evil is something everyone can relate to. We all deal with it in some form, at some point in our life.

In the words of OASIS President Mehta, “This is their way of saying that all evil in the world has been defeated; that is the whole purpose of this dance.”