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Sikh Student Association’s Punjabi Culture Night joyously unifies friends, family

Several dancers dressed in brightly colored garments move with their hands in the air at this year’s Punjabi Culture Night, hosted by the UCLA Sikh Student Association. (Shengfeng Chien/Daily Bruin staff)

By Kevin Lin

Feb. 12, 2023 10:32 p.m.

The Sikh Student Association choreographed a night to remember.

On Saturday, the Sikh Student Association hosted its first Punjabi Culture Night since the beginning of the pandemic at the Ackerman Grand Ballroom, providing a snapshot into the culture of Punjab, a state in northern India. The night consisted of various entertainment, such as dancing exhibitions and a Punjabi DJ, as well as traditional Punjabi food. Second-year psychobiology student Dilraj Singh said the event was welcome to all, giving newcomers a chance to experience the Punjabi culture at UCLA.

“Not only do we get to showcase our culture, but we also get to participate in parts of our culture that are slowly dying out with generations,” Singh said. “This (is) keeping our culture alive, but I (also) think Punjabi culture does a great job of unifying everybody on campus.”

The night kicked off with Punjabi food and social activities, supplemented by pop and hip-hopinfused Punjabi music in the background. The menu consisted of vegetarian samosas seasoned with garam masala and ginger, crispy paneer pakoras, and a spicy gobi – Punjab for cauliflower – Manchurian. Included were circular tables for individuals to chat during their meal. For UC Riverside student Shad Singh, the energy of the Punjabi culture animated the event.

“You have to have energy to be in the culture,” Singh said. “It can come from home, or it can come from driving up here (to the event), listening to music. It can pump you up much like a football game or a basketball game can.”

Attendees cheer on a dancer dressed in gold and green. In addition to food and an open dance floor, the event featured performances of traditional Punjabi dances by various dance teams including UCLA's Bhangra team. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)
Attendees cheer on a dancer dressed in gold and green. In addition to food and an open dance floor, the event featured performances of traditional Punjabi dances by various dance teams including UCLA’s Bhangra team. (Brandon Morquecho/Daily Bruin)

[Related: Student-led showcase ‘Metamorphosis’ explores transformation, interpretation]

Following dinner, attendees were entertained by a series of dance teams presenting traditional Punjabi dances that also referenced songs and dances from modern popular culture. The first group, UC Irvine’s Rang de Irvine, grooved to the instrumental of “Mo Bamba” by Sheck Wes overlaid with Punjabi rap verses. UC Riverside’s Ghidde Di Raunak then danced to Punjabi music laden with heavy bass and trap beats. UC Riverside’s Bhangra team implemented their version of the Griddy, a popular dance on social media popularized by Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, into their routine.

After the first three dances, UCLA’s Bhangra team did a rendition of Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” as an homage to their Los Angeles roots. The group followed their L.A. tribute with an energetic rendition of hip-hopinfused Punjabi music, mixing Drake’s “Find Your Love” with other songs. Showcased by the UCLA Bhangra team, the bhangra – an energetic form of Punjabi dance consisting of high jumps, leaps and fast footwork – was met with many cheers during some of the more athletic displays of the routine.

The performances concluded with UCLA’s Ghidde Diyan Raniyan dance team, which presented a more traditional storytelling version of Punjabi dance and culture. The team included many traditional sounds and music from Punjabi Sikh culture, and its dance routine reflected many aspects of Punjabi daily life, such as wearing Punjabi garments or cooking traditional dishes.

[Related: Student-run WACsmash event brings dance, art into digital space]

The evening’s final portion consisted of the DJ opening up the floor for everyone to dance, leading to the last event of the night. In addition to dressing up in the traditional Punjabi garments, Kunal Dogra, a student at Cal State Northridge, said one of the most meaningful aspects of the night was being with friends and family in a place he felt he belonged to and not judged.

“They (my parents) really wanted to focus on raising my brother with some culture, so it was nice experiencing … a little piece of India,” Dogra said. “It’s just nice to have things like this, knowing it makes me feel comfortable.”


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Kevin Lin
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