Students filled the stage with the passionate steps and energetic arm movements of the traditional bhangra dance, but added their own urban twist with modern hip-hop dance moves and music.
The Sikh Student Association held its seventh annual culture night, called Bhangra Banquet, on Friday in Ackerman Grand Ballroom to celebrate and share Punjabi culture with UCLA students. About 200 people attended the event, which included performances by singer Harry Singh, dance groups Bhangra Regiment and Bruin Bhangra, and spoken-word and rap artist Sal Chahal, among others.
Sikhism, the world’s fifth-most followed religion, originated in the northern Indian state of Punjab.
Nitasha Kour, president of the Sikh Student Association and a fourth-year biology student, said the group aimed to host an event open to and enjoyable for every student on campus by focusing on sharing Punjabi culture in a social and festive way.
Simran Bohgunh, a third-year political science student and MC for the event, said the Sikh Student Association follows the Sikhism’s three pillars, which are community service, prayer and providing for family and the community. The group aims to teach students about Sikhism through prayer and discussion about historical events, and about Punjabi culture.
Growing up in a Sikh household, Bohgunh said Punjabi culture has always been a part of his identity.
“(Being a part of the group) brings me peace in my life as well as a balance of spirituality. With all of the troubles and hard work we go through in school, the (Sikh Student Association) is like my escape,” he said.
Manjot Singh, a fourth-year global studies student and a member of the Sikh Student Association, said the group named the culture night after the bhangra dance, a Punjabi folk dance that reflects the agricultural roots of the Sikh people.
“Although the bhangra dance has expanded into Western contexts with the mixture of bhangra and hip-hop music, the lyrics often involved in bhangra music reflects the history, tales and struggles of the Punjab region,” he said.
Audience members joined in on performances at the front of the stage to dance together during the event, circling Chahal and participating in a dance competition.
Navjot Sandhu, a fourth-year neuroscience student and vice president of the Sikh Student Association, said that when she came to UCLA as a first-year, she was surprised that the Sikh Student Association existed, since she thinks the religion is not prominent on campus.
She said she joined the group hoping to learn more about her culture.
“UCLA is the perfect platform to showcase different aspects of different cultures of the world. It’s important to let diversity in and learn about new things,” Sandhu said. “The more you know about it, the more you enjoy it.”
Sandhu said that when she was younger, she felt her grandfather was treated like a foreigner in the United States because he wears a turban and follows the Sikh religion.
“Though it was hard for my grandfather coming to America, he kept his identity and made people love him regardless of how he looked. He embraced his turban and taught people about it,” she said.
Inspired by her grandfather, Sandhu said she is trying to follow in his footsteps by participating in Sikh Student Association events, which she said she thinks educate students about the culture.
Some group members said they feel they face similar discrimination and misconceptions about their culture. Kour said she thinks that after 9/11, some people associated Sikh students with the attacks because they wear turbans.
Kour said she thinks the night was a way to counter misunderstandings.
“I’ve been trying to get involved in my community and spread awareness because a lot of people don’t know that we are a separate religion and culture,” she said.
Singh said he thinks the group still needs to hold more educational events to teach students about Sikhism so they can understand the culture on a deeper and more intellectual level and break down misconceptions.
“Sikhs cannot be painted with one brush stroke,” he said. “Sikhs in America are farmers, laborers, cab drivers, bus drivers, undocumented immigrants, in addition to lawyers, doctors, engineers and accountants.”