Gateway to India unlocks beauty, traditions of Indian culture for a 27th year

The 27th annual Gateway to India showcased skills from different dance groups and a fashion show. Kassidy Tsikitas | Photo Editor

By Emma Weidmann | Arts and Life Editor

Baylor’s Indian Subcontinent Student Association hosted its 27th-annual Gateway to India showcase Saturday night in Waco Hall, spreading the culture and traditions of the Indian subcontinent through dance, fashion and food. The event raised $1,500 for Developments in Literacy, a charity providing education to children in Pakistan.

Gateway to India takes place during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and a time when those who observe it fast from sunup to sundown. After five dances, the event paused for an intermission, and Indian food such as samosas, tandoori chicken and paneer were served for iftar, the breaking of the fast.

Dallas junior Insha Ladhani, ISSA multicultural chair, said it was important for ISSA to provide for and recognize the Muslim population on campus, of which she is a part, during such a special and religiously significant time.

“Even though we’re all on Baylor’s campus, I feel like there’s a huge amount of Muslim community that’s going to either be attending the event or are partaking in the event, so we just thought that if we are opening the culture to India, we feel like that it should be offered,” Karim said. “If you’re partaking in fasting, it should be offered and if they’re respecting your culture, we should respect their culture.”

Minneapolis junior Shifa Karim, ISSA service chair, is also Muslim and observes Ramadan. She said Baylor has done a good job catering to its Muslim community by offering to-go meals in the dining halls for suhoor, which is eaten before sunrise during Ramadan.

“Even though we are predominantly Christian university and Baylor stands by that, they are still kind of accepting the fact that there are people who are of other religions who still want to attend here and we still welcome them with open arms,” Karim said.

Dance groups from all across the state were welcomed to Waco Hall. Baylor Taal won best intro video with an “Avatar: The Last Airbender” theme, and Southern Methodist University’s Rang celebrated their first appearance at Gateway since their founding last year.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Punjabbawockeez swept the People’s Choice Awards with their Game Pigeon-themed performance. By incorporating hits like Ariana Grande’s “Side to Side” and showing off extremely coordinated moves, they took home awards for audience favorite, best music choice, best theme and best costumes.

UT Punjabbawockeez performs at the 27th annual Gateway to India. Kassidy Tsikitas | Photo Editor
UT Punjabbawockeez performs at the 27th annual Gateway to India. Kassidy Tsikitas | Photo Editor

The award for best choreography went to University of Texas at Dallas’ Raftaar, whose zombie outbreak performance was electrifying. It wasn’t just a dance — the act was paired with a short film that would play between dance numbers, during which two doctors raced to save the world from the “Revenant Plague” that turned their dancers to zombies.

Gateway to India is a fusion dance showcase, so not every performance had hip-hop and modern influences. Dancer Akshaya Balan presented Bharatanatyam, the oldest classical dance tradition in India. This style of dance is often used to tell Hindu religious stories, and its ancient roots can be traded back more than 2,000 years.

There was not a sound made from the audience during Balan’s performance, as each attendee was held captive by her undeniable stage presence. Balan wore bells around her ankles and used her facial expressions to convey a wide range of emotions throughout the duration of her performance. Her background and training shone through — Balan studied under Guru Mrudula Rai at Shree Natya Niketan in Coimbatore, Inda.

The fashion show portion of the evening, which took place before Balan’s dance, was all about showing off the beautiful designs and traditional clothing of the Indian subcontinent. Las Vegas junior Zaahra Mehdi said there’s more to the fashion than just the glitter and vibrant colors.

“We have so many differences amongst all the different countries that are in the Indian subcontinent, and so we get to show the colors, the different styles that also go with the different religions,” Mehdi said. “There’s a lot of religious significance that comes with different outfits, with saris and suits and shararas and lehengas, they’re all like a great way to showcase how there’s so much diversity within South Asia that I think that people tend to lose sight of.”

While the dancers shook the stage, in the quiet of the lobby was a vendor fair where jewelry, art, merch and more could be purchased at several tables. Local artist Raj Solanki, one of the vendors, said it’s important that people learn about India and “see the beauty of it.” His own journey as an artist has been to reconnect with his heritage, as he spent his childhood trying to escape it. Events like Gateway to India are helping to bring that representation that “little Raj” should have had.

“What would little Raj have wanted to see as a kid that would have inspired him to not want to distance himself from his culture?” Solanki said. “And not just the side that shows Indians as gas station owners or taxi cab drivers.”