Because the night belongs to us
IIT KGP’s unique tradition of Illu and Rangoli is all about bonding and sharing
He shakes his head and guffaws a little. He is pointing to the huge sheets drawn around one side of the RP hostel. “They do all kinds of measurements and can apprehend where the wind is coming from. These sheets are to keep out the wind so that the diyas do not blow out. Even if one diya is not burning, it could mean 2nd place. They are very competitive,” says the rickshaw puller. He has been around for some time and believes that he can let me in to some inside information. He could be exaggerating, of course, but I realize that a local would feel compelled to do so only if he has himself bought the tale. And Illu – together with its high art, valour, thrill, novelty and spirit – is undoubtedly an inspiring tale that many subscribe to, even if it is a humble, and mildly inebriated, rickshaw puller.
Illuminations – Illu is what it is endearingly called – means light. That, and nothing else – no noise, no smoke, no burning bits of metallic shards or paper – fill your senses on the day of Diwali. “If you call it Illu and not Diwali, you are a KGPian,” said Pooja Rai, a 2015 BArch graduate and a well-known architect, social entrepreneur and author. A typical Illumination is often a gigantic structure which has small lamps or diyas closely tied to a bamboo structure. The diyas outline a scene – from the epics, folktale or a contemporary subject – or a mythical or public figure. The diyas are lighted, all together, by students on the day of Illu to a spectacular effect before a huge crowd that assemble on the night of Diwali.
A whole lot of action takes place for months before this ultimate day however. Vasanta Majety, 3rd year student of Chemical Engineering, says, “The process begins with making grooves on the diyas, looping them around the ‘chatais’, rubbing them with mud and clay so that they don’t catch fire and ending with students climbing over arrays of tables and lighting the diyas up to form meaningful and breathtakingly beautiful patterns.”
The materials are locally sourced and the oil specially made. “The composition of the oil is such that they can sustain through the night with minimum smoke production,” says Vishal Singh, Vice-President, Technology Students’ Gymkhana. The diyas are also lighted once before the actual night so that they do not turn off on the big day, says an eager student . Everything, from the preparation of the chatais to the lighting of the diyas is done by students. No outside help is engaged for anything.
Together with Illu is the other 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 colours mixed with sand. The sand is sifted at least a hundred times to get a fineness that is silvery smooth when run through the fingers. The colours are sourced locally or sometimes, from the South, for some colours that are rare.
The 4th year students usually decide on the theme and design and the 3rd year students execute the work with the help of the 1st and 2nd year students. The themes are multifarious again – scenes from myths, folklore or contemporary accounts of violence or victory (RK Hall this time had various scenes decrying violence against women, Nehru Hall had a scene depicting Buddha’s renunciation, while LBS Hall depicted India’s space mission). The colour mixing is the main challenge. They can be rejected several times by the ‘Dadas’ of the Rangoli team. Grids are first drawn on the floor and then the colours are filled in, in accordance with the design that can be drawn by hand or on the computer. The shading is the trickiest part and can take hours to get things right. A strict timeline, stretching over at least two months, are drawn out and adhered to for the execution of the Rangolis.
For the juniors, who are made to slog for hours into the night, Diwali should be a time of rebellion. Instead, it is quite the opposite. Arghya Ghose, a 3rd year student, says, “Thanks to all Seniors who knocked us every night and made us a part of this… thanks for giving us the joy of creation…. We will never forget to carry forward this tradition.”
Beyond the hard work, the nights of slaving tying the minute diyas to the bamboo, or tracing gulal on the floor, lies the one great thing- The togetherness. Shubham Shrivastava, Physics, 4th year, says, “Illumination is not just an event for us. It is a way to unite and bond the student community. It teaches us to work as a team, for our pride and culture, with the single aim of making our Diwali brighter and merrier. The five minutes of glory we get – when the chatais are lit – motivates us for months to work with full force. Illumination is our heritage that distinguishes IIT KGP from all others.”
“Unlimited creativity with limited resources,” is how a KGPian of the 1994 Batch described Illu. “The kind of detailing, coordination, creativity, time management, budgeting and team work” that one comes across during Illu and Rangoli, even in the preparation phase, is akin to the complex project management one comes across in the professional life, says Sanjay Sikdar, the 1994 KGPian. Another KGPian in a video on Illu released by the Branding and Relations Cell of IIT KGP says, “While some see Illu as a giant canvass, what I see is a canvass of bonds.”
Would that mean our rickshaw wallah is wrong about all that hair-raising spirit of competition? Not entirely. There is the Best Illu and Best Rangoli trophy to be lifted and sweets to be won. The furious chants that rent the air on Illu night, “RK Hall baap hai” and sundry are not to be discounted either. But the bonds that are forged through these events between the senior and junior students, and among students in general are stronger than any spite that may arise in a good-natured competition. Prof. Partha Pratim Chakrabarti, Director IIT KGP, said a few days before Illu when he was making the tours through the hostels, “I wish to see more seniors participating as it will encourage the younger people a lot more. That is the strategy I adopted when I was in charge of Illu in my Hall as G Sec Soc & Cult… It is so much more about bonding and sharing… .”
Saksham Goyal, 5th year student from the Department of Geology and Geophysics, perhaps puts it all together in his limerick:
Crackers for you, diyas for us
Relatives for you, family for us
Free days for you, long nights for us
Peace for you, war for us
Festival for you, Tradition for us