Philadelphia-area Hindu community celebrates Diwali

A Fishtown dance group will present “PhilaDHOLphia” next month
Usiloquy Dance Designs members performing traditional Indian classical dance as part of Diwali, the celebration of light over darkness.
Usiloquy Dance Designs members performing traditional Indian classical dance as part of Diwali, the celebration of light over darkness. Photo credit Usiloquy Dance Designs

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A group of Philadelphians is partaking in one of the biggest celebrations on the Hindu calendar.

Diwali is a five-day national holiday in India, where gifts are given and sweet treats are served.  The festival is traditionally celebrated all month long, as it marks the victory of light over darkness.

“Childhood memories in India were about firecrackers, dressing up, eating, and asking for the gift you had your eye on the entire year,” says Usiloquy Dance Designs Artistic Director Shaily Dadiala. She said expression through dance is a big tradition during Diwali.

Dancer Ankita Reddy said she wasn’t comfortable sharing Diwali with her classmates when she was growing up, because there weren’t many Indian students in her class. She boldly shares it today.

“Being in something like a dance company and dance group has really made it something to celebrate,” said Reddy.

The Fishtown-based dance group will be expressing their joy of the season with a performance at the FringeArts Auditorium in Old City on Nov. 12.

They are calling the event PhilaDHOLphia. The ‘Dhol’ is a double-sided drum, and its heart-thumping rhythm is a public invitation to partake in festive performances.

“We are seven people who make a lot of noise with our feet, and we want everybody to come and join. Percussion is so primal, and people find themselves connecting in these non-lexical and unspoken ways,” Dadiala said.

Usiloquy’s dancers will perform “Chaat,” an original work, based upon an Indian dance form called Bharatanatyam.  Two show runs will be followed by a moderated artist interaction session, with the evening show including a snack sampling.

Anusha Srikanthan, who also dances with the group, already kicked off her festivities.

“We got dinner at an Indian restaurant, and then we lit lamps at my place and played Indian songs,” said Srikanthan. “We were dancing for a while and then we started having sweets.”

Dancer Antima Chakraborty says she is pleased to see how the celebration has evolved.

“It wasn’t always that I would open my social media feed and see my friends and companies and organizations, and I’m here with you talking about Diwali,” said Chakraborty. “It really wasn’t like this at all.”

She said at times they don’t feel like they fit into the societal mold, but through dance, they are free to express themselves and they invite others to join them.

Dr. Aney Abraham, who also dances with Usiloquy, says she was born in a Christian family,

“Diwali is mainly a Hindu celebration, but I do remember lights, gifts, and food. I have been dancing with Shaily since 2013 and now I dance for Diwali,” Dr. Abraham said. “But I have to say that I too am shocked that one of my colleagues told me that one of the school districts in Montgomery County has a Diwali holiday, so I was very excited to hear that!”

Featured Image Photo Credit: Usiloquy Dance Designs