SASA makes history with first-ever Diwali celebration


Sachi Rasne

Guests form a circle and begin to dance Garba, a type of traditional Indian dance originating from the state of Gujarat.

Sachi Rasne and Deepa Gautam

The WA cafeteria is nearly unrecognizable. Bright orange garlands wrap the staircase railings and hang from the ceiling. Multi-colored streamers spread across the ceiling and disco lights transform the cafeteria into a South Asian party. But, in the middle of the room, five glow-in-the-dark letters spell out a word that explains it all: Darba.

On Nov. 7, WA made history with its first-ever school-wide event celebrating Diwali, hosting more than 250 community members. The term, a creative coinage by SASA (South Asian Student Association), combined Diwali and garba for a night full of traditional decoration, dance, and music. 

“This event was the culmination of everything many of us have been trying to do for our South Asian students and our larger community for the past 20 years,” SASA club advisor Rashmi Kumar said.

In order to create this immersive experience for its guests, Darba offered a wide variety of cultural activities and foods. The night began with snacks catered by Sai Baba Canteen in Groton, serving South Asian cuisine such as samosas and gulab jamun. The latter half of the evening invited students to the dance floor to learn two types of traditional dance: Sanedo and Garba.

“I’d heard of Garba before, and my friends have always wanted to take me, so this was a perfect introduction,” junior Natalie Strauss said. “It was a really comfortable setting and I’m so grateful I got to experience some of the culture and beauty of South Asia, and just the art of the dance itself.”

Following years of DEI work and efforts to celebrate WA’s diversity, the cabinet members of SASA felt that this year was perfect for hosting an event like Darba. Not only was this the first year that all Westford Public Schools received a day off for Diwali, but the South Asian community has found multiple ways to thrive with increased participation in events such as Diwali Dress Up Day, where they dress in traditional South Asian clothing in honor of the holiday, according to Kumar. 

“With events like Darba, I see SASA developing into more than just a club,” senior social media manager Tanya Joshi said. “It is a community and platform for South Asian students and other students that are interested in spreading diversity to our community.”

According to the SASA cabinet, planning an event of this scale within three weeks, however, was no easy feat. As a new club with limited funding and experience, holding this event for the first time and bringing their ideas to life with decorations, a DJ, and catering wasn’t always easy.

“The days before Darba for me were full of doubt on whether or not this event would be successful and if people would want to come back for it another year,” SASA President junior Tanvi Kodukulla said. “But, during Darba when it hit me that we really did this, it was such an incredible feeling. I don’t think I’ve ever smiled so much.”

With this gained experience, SASA hopes to continue Darba as a yearly event, making it bigger and better, according to SASA Treasurer junior Srinivas Sriram. Among these improvements will include planning ahead to set the date to a Friday, rather than a Monday, and incorporating feedback from SASA club members and Darba guests.

Above all, Kodukulla and cabinet members like junior social media manager Saniya Purohit hope to keep the spirit of South Asian culture alive at WA, offering more fun opportunities for all students to learn, embrace, and share their own culture. 

“When I was little, going to garba was one of my favorite things to do during the festival season,” Purohit said. “To see my culture, which is so important to me, being celebrated in a predominantly white community, and seeing non-South Asian people mingle, celebrate, and enjoy this event made me feel happy to share a piece of my culture.”

Ultimately, taking advantage of the platform they have gained, SASA hopes to continue engaging with the WA community and provide a platform for all students to feel appreciated.

“SASA’s mission aligns with the district-wide DEI committee’s goal of providing a sense of belonging for each and every student,” Kumar said. “Having said that, one of our objectives is to include all students, not just South Asian students, and Darba showcased this beautifully.”

SASA held a table at the Holiday Bazaar for their next fundraiser, selling South Asian snacks, henna, jewelry, bracelets, and earrings on Dec. 3. SASA is currently in the works of planning more club meetings and fundraisers for the upcoming month.