Bombay to Bozeman: India night introduces Montana State University to traditional cuisine, dance and stories

With the warm aroma of curry in the air and the flash of colorful saris throughout the room, around 500 students, faculty and community members gathered in the SUB Ballrooms Sunday night to discover “a country of colors, contradictions and organized chaos” — India. Supported by the Diversity Awareness Office and the Office of Activities and Engagement, the Indian Students Association (ISA) hosted the 6th Annual India Night: a celebration of Diwali, the Festival of Lights.

A Hindu tradition, the five-day festival is an official holiday of India that celebrates “the victory of good over evil” and is observed by all Indians, including Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs. For Bozeman, Diwali provided an opportunity to celebrate Indian culture as a whole.

“A land of paradoxes, with a thousand temples and a thousand skyscrapers,” said Sujay Senrayan, Vice-President of the ISA, describing India’s various cultures and 22 languages as a place where “the new age and old age co-exist in perfect harmony.” The night displayed the confluence of the old and the new by including traditional elements such as a dramatized version of the story of Holi, the festival of colors and a modern Bollywood dance.

Dance is a major form of expression in India. Accordingly, Sunday’s event included four different cultural dances, including the 2000-year-old Bharatanatyam, an exotic dance — the movements of which are meant to mirror the movements of a dancing flame — performed by ISA member Renee Orie in traditional Indian costume.

[pullquote align=”right”]“The new age and the old age co-exist in perfect harmony.” — Sujay Senrayan, Vice-President of the Indian Students Association.[/pullquote]

ISA President Anmol Grace Manchala performed a popular, although not strictly Indian, flag dance. By flipping her arms, Manchala flitted and twisted shimmering, gold flags around her, mesmerizing the audience with each graceful step.

No exploration into another culture is complete without food, and India Night was no exception. Guests were served traditional cuisine, hand-prepared by the Indian students. Dinner included pea pulav (rice with spices), butter chicken, chole (chickpea curry) and poori (fried bread). Dessert was gulab, reminiscent of a donut hole soaked in a sweet sauce. All of this was washed down with mango lassi, a sweet yogurt-based drink that cut the spiciness of the dishes.

Dinner was accompanied by music by Russ Leonard and Deborah Schuerr on the sitar and violin, respectively. A classic element of Indian music, the sitar is a plucked string instrument with a gourd-shaped resonance chamber, producing a warm buzzing sound unlike any Western instrument.

The night ended with a fashion-show-turned-dance-party in which the audience was invited to the stage to show off their moves — a flamboyant and fun finale to a first taste of India. By combining traditional elements — like the colored rice murals known as Rangoli — with a comedic skit about an Indian student’s venture to the United States, India Night truly displayed the rich and eclectic mix that forms the country’s unique culture.