On Diwali at Wolfson, by Abbernaa Dhevi Kukananthan
As a third-generation Malaysian with Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil heritage, Deepavali, or Diwali, has always been a huge part of my identity and it was a goal of mine to create a space to celebrate this global festival in my college, Wolfson.
Diwali is a celebration of ‘light’, with cultural and religious roots in South Asia. However, the global diaspora celebrates this festival in many permutations – with Southeast Asian interpretations being an example.
Back in 2021, when I was Wolfson College Student Association’s (WCSA) International Students’ Representative, I had thought about organising an annual Diwali celebration at the College – one that would celebrate the festival, but also introduce the traditions, food, and ideas to other students and the College as a whole.
Wolfson is a deeply international place – with almost a hundred nationalities represented in our student body – so sharing our cultures, our ideas, and our traditions is one of the big opportunities and privileges of being here. So I knew that the student body would really love the event.
In 2021, I worked closely with a wonderful Wolfson alumna, Navleen Kaur, who was also passionate about cross-cultural integration, and together, we laid the foundation for a whole new Wolfson tradition! This was exciting, and having organised events over many years, I have grown to know when an endeavour should be continued. And this was definitely a celebration worth building on.
Following up on the first success
After that first success, I knew I wanted to go even bigger in 2022. So we got together an organising team comprising of students who brought their own unique ideas.
Last year, I was part of a team of six students – with further help from the College – who arranged the Diwali programme: Mitali Gupta, Radhika Gupta, Aviral Marwal, Dmitrii Petrukhin, and our 2022 WCSA International Students’ Representative, Chon Wai Ho.
We were ecstatic to have received the support from the College for these celebrations – and it was a great example of the whole College coming together to make something special.
Coming from Malaysia, and Asia at large, where culture, cultural celebrations, and cross-cultural celebrations are such integral parts of our social fabric, it meant a lot to me to see these traditions really embraced in such a culturally diverse place as Wolfson.
A feast for the senses
There were four stages to our Diwali celebrations last year: a teatime chai and snacks social, a concert-style show, Diwali dinner, and a dance/music social to end the day.
Many Wolfson members and students across other colleges performed in this event and it was truly a feast for the senses. Our concert hall, the Lee Hall, remained full, from Wolfson President, Professor Jane Clarke’s welcome speech all the way until the end of the two-hour-long event.
Food and culture were intertwined, and we made sure that amalgamation was represented in our celebrations with an assortment of both South and North Indian cuisine available to students, both in our clubroom teatime social and in our dining hall dinner menu.
And the food was a hit! There was a huge queue in the Dining Hall, with people staying in line for more than an hour so as not to miss out on the specially-curated menu that our organising team produced, delivered by our wonderful catering team!
Celebrating internationalism at Wolfson
This is my final year at Wolfson. It’s been a thrilling three years, and I’ve been involved in so much, both as International Students’ Rep and as a student and member of the College: from organising an Asian Film Series to celebrate films across all areas of the continent, to co-organising a Cultural Diversity Weekend with Annoa (former WCSA BAME rep), to being involved in Wolfson’s ‘Let’s Talk About Race and Racism’ initiative.
In line with that, creating these Diwali celebrations is one of the things that I am most proud of. In an institution where culture, art, and heritage are always assessed academically, it was important to me that lived experiences, through festivity and shared culture, were brought to the forefront – and I really think we achieved that over the last two years.
With such rich diversity in our college, I hope our celebrations will be continued and developed by students to come, and also inspire others to create more spaces for cross-cultural joy. Because everyone deserves to feel at home.