Students wandered throughout the windy Amphitheater Thursday, sporting both bandaids on their shoulders and plates full of traditional Indian dishes in their hands. The Sikh Students Association hosted their annual Punjabi Culture Night, complete with not only free food and numerous cultural performances and activities, but flu shots as well. The SSA offered attendees free flu shots with insurance through CVS in order to alleviate a practical health concern during the colder months while attendees celebrated Punjabi culture.
Called the Land of Five Rivers, the state of Punjab is nestled on India’s northwest border with Pakistan and is home to both a wealth of culture and the majority of the Sikh population. Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world. Second-year College student Karmine Malhi described how the SSA hoped to bring the culture of Punjab to the University.
“A majority of Sikhs are populated in Punjab, although they can be found all over the world,” Malhi said. “So this event is basically showcasing the culture through food ... and then we have a bhangra performance, which is a Punjabi folk dance, and we have Henna tattoos, which are commonly done before marriages and celebrations. And we have some festive arts and crafts as well.”
While the Henna and arts and crafts tables drew in passersby, the main event proved to be the food, as students formed two ever-growing lines on either side of a tent everyone hoped would not blow away. Three dishes from Milan Indian Restaurant accompanied with mango juice and soda propelled curious and hungry students to grab plates. Fourth-year College student Sirtaj Kahlon explained that the three dishes included Gulab Jamun, Papri Chaat and samosas.
“[Gulab Jamun] is basically a ball of dough soaked in sugar syrup,” Kahlon said. “Suagr syrup is very sweet, usually served hot. Then there’s Papri Chaat, which is chickpeas, spices and then basically tortilla crisps with it … And also potatoes. And the third [dish] is samosa, which is a savory pastry with potatoes, onions and chickpeas.”
A more hushed, timid line formed behind a CVS banner. Originally meant as a separate event, the SSA partnered with the local CVS pharmacy to promote public health by giving students an easily accessible opportunity to receive their flu vaccine for the season. Students were encouraged to bring their insurance or medical cards to receive no-cost flu shots.
Jasmeen Dhillon, fourth-year College student and co-president of SSA, said that SSA was trying to get a health event and this culture event done in the same week.
“The other co-president’s [friend] told her about [the CVS partnership], and she was like ‘Let’s put it together,’” Dhillon said.
About 150 attendees came by over the course of the event. First-year College student Hadi Houalla did not know about the event prior to wandering by it.
“I like to keep my mind open to new experiences and opportunities,” Houalla said. “There's always really cool things going on in the Amphitheater.”
As the evening wound down, a small team of colorfully-dressed dancers from Virginia Di Shaan took the Amphitheater stage to perform a traditional Indian dance, Bhangra. Virginia Di Shaan participates yearly in Bhangra Blowout, an international collegiate South Asian dance competition.
“We have a couple of people who are on the executive board that do Bhangra,” Dhillon said. “It’s a classical form of dance, when it was first originated it was mainly for males, but then it became more of a female, male thing. Now there's huge competitions and multiple teams from various places. There’s an official team [at] U.Va. I know there's an official team [at] VCU ... UMD, George Mason [and] Virginia Tech … They have this huge competition.”
Around 7:30 p.m., the SSA began to clean up the event. Only the quiet melody of traditional dance music and stacks of empty trays that once held piles of sweet and savory Indian foods hinted at the piece of Punjab that lived there moments before.
Correction: This article previously misquoted second-year College student Karmine Malhi as saying "punk rock performance," instead of "bhangra performance." It has been updated to reflect the correct quote.