Walking down the halls of residence at the IIT Kharagpur campus during the Diwali festival one would come across giant bamboo structures and busy students tying earthen lamps (diyaas) to them in patterns. There is no rush for firecrackers among the 12000 strong student population of IIT Kharagpur but a wait for the Diwali eve when any visitor would be awed by the lighted canvas telling stories from Indian history and mythology, Indian or global political issues, socio-economic issues etc.
When the country is debating the ban on firecrackers and whether to extend the same to other festivities and celebrations; when people are still hoping to get lucky with the green crackers which have been out of stock in the market; when the world is still debating about climate change with groups trying to find perspectives in the voices raised by climate change evangelists; the students in their late teens and 20s have quietly established a tradition of going green every Diwali for the past four decades.
“Our campus is stretched across 2100 acres but the halls of residence are located in a particular area. Think what would we do to our homes at Kgp if thousands of firecrackers are burnt for an entire evening! Instead, in typical IIT KGP style our seniors in the early 1980s turned this challenge into an opportunity and pledged to shun air pollution and replace it with creativity, teamwork, innovation and leading to creating art forms which was named Illumination,” said a proud Akshat Jain, 3rd year UG student of Agricultural and Food Engineering department, who also heads the Public Relations Chair of Technology Students Gymkhana, the student nerve centre of IIT Kharagpur.
In the true spirit of Diwali, Illumination disseminates a wave of excitement and enthusiasm throughout the campus. It marks the triumph of endless night-outs, mammoth hours of planning and exemplary teamwork uniting the whole campus community and making a yearly statement of how nature can be saved following a long-standing tradition. To begin with, the basic raw materials comprising of steel wires, bamboo, and diyas, students transform them into magnificent structures with unique themes varying with Halls of residence which shine against the dark making every KGPian proud and spirited. The diyas are hung to designing of gigantic canvasses made of bamboo structures or Chatais about 20 ft high with an average area of 1500 sq.ft. On the eve of Diwali as the visitors start coming in one hall after another start lighting up these diyas creating a mesmerising view to which only professional artistes may be able to compete.
“This culture is followed by 23 halls of residence where artist’s canvases are created and these artistes are none other than students of IIT Kharagpur. Such a non-polluting way of celebration benefiting the local community both environmentally and economically in this scale would be difficult to find elsewhere in the world to the best of my knowledge. Illumination I would say, is the indigenous festival of IIT Kharagpur,” beamed Akshat.
Talking about this green Diwali tradition, Officiating Director of IIT Kharagpur Prof. Sriman Kumar Bhattacharyya said, “Illumination is done with a grandeur without causing any harm to the environment. It is a green process because the students do not burn any material which could be considered as highly pollutant. This could also be observed the day following Diwali when the air at the IIT Kharagpur campus as fresh as the other days unlike the scenario in most urban areas.”
This led to a direct, positive impact on the campus environment by preventing unwanted noise and air pollution while at the same time saving large on electricity expenditure on the day of Diwali by going traditional. And then there is the novelty of supporting the livelihood of local shopkeepers selling the materials required for this celebration.
Together with Illumination is another indispensable part of Diwali at IIT Kharagpur – “Rangoli”. The IIT KGP Rangoli is very different from what is traditionally thought of as Rangoli per se. These are huge murals made on the floor with colors mixed with sand. The sand is sifted at least a hundred times to get a fineness that is silvery smooth when running through the fingers. The colours are sourced locally or sometimes, from South India, for some colours that are rare. Students work on deciding the theme and design and ultimately executing the work. The themes are multifarious – scenes from myths, folklore or contemporary accounts of violence or victory, addressing social issues and achievements of Indians.
This unique festival of IIT Kharagpur has more takers than the campus residents and students. Just like pandal hopping, thousands of visitors from outside the campus do hostel hopping on the eve of Diwali before the diyas run out of oil and the wind takes charge. The festival is also highly popular with the international students who enthusiastically take part in the preparation in their respective halls of residence.
Prof. Anandroop Bhattacharya, Associate Dean of International relations of the institute who was alumnus of 1997 batch said that “illumination event is something every KGPian is proud of. Nowhere is Diwali celebrated in the world as it is done at IIT KGP. Through decades we have been able to show that there is a clean and green way of celebrating Diwali.”
To share the art form with more connoisseurs from the global community, this year the Office of International Relations launched a holistic short-term certification program Dyuti focussing on Indian science, technology, heritage and culture with a workshop on Illumination and Rangoli. International students of various nationalities who are already studying in India joined the week-long programme are to join the day-long workshop at the halls of residence where they will take part in the making of the grand designs and take back home an experience which can transform festivities across the globe to cleaner celebrations without missing the joy of it.