Friday, October 28, 2011

Illumination and Rangoli, IIT Kharagpur

Note 1: Every time I write a post, I think quite a lot about what the heading should be. It is pretty straight-forward in this one.

Note 2: Happy Diwali!

Every year, some 4000-odd bright and smart students, tucked away in a tiny village/town in India, create Magic. Every year. Students, who are known to be brilliant in "The Sciences", create Magic in Art, beyond imagination, and it comes from a place so unlikely for something like this. A spectacle seen at no-place else, a spectacle a lot of people don't know about. A spectacle the world needs to know about.

Which is why I want to write about it. And I will, knowing that my blog's reach isn't too great, but hoping that I am able to make this grand event reach a few more people than it would have otherwise, and do my (tiny) bit in spreading the word about something that deserves to be known.

I am talking about 'Illumination and Rangoli', popularly called 'Illu' by the students, organised every year at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur. It is a "competition", among the various halls of residences inside the campus. It involves two events, 'Illumination', and 'Rangoli', fiercely contested among the participating halls. Winning the event goes beyond the pots and pots of Rasgullas given to the winners, it's about pride, honor, the sense of togetherness, accomplishment, the rush of adrenalin, and more...

As someone who had the privilege of going to IIT Kharagpur, I would like to share what I have seen over the years as a student there, as someone who has seen the emotions and the feelings, felt it, and feels the need to shout it out for the world to hear, and can only attempt to describe it in words.


Diwali is the biggest Indian festival, meant to be celebrated with friends and family. For most of the four/five years that the students spend at IIT Kharagpur, it is celebrated with only friends, without the family. For Illu.

So, the preparations begin a month in advance. Huge chatai's, or grids made of bamboo, are used to tie diyas to. Several days are spent in tying up the diyas to wires, which would be used to keep the diya in place on the Chatai. No electronic lights of any sort are used in the whole setup. The diyas are tied to the Chatais to make patterns. Popular scenes chosen are straight out of Indian mythology, like 'The Mahabharat', or 'The Ramayan'.

There is madness on the final day. The atmosphere is enveloped in rush and urgency. The halls are decorated. Huge containers are filled with oil. Pichkaris would be used to fill the diyas with oil. The oil is preheated so that it burns effectively. Wicks are put in place in the diyas. When the moment comes, thousands of diyas are lighted simultaneously by hundreds of students, mounted on tables and chairs, placed one over the other, to reach Chatais sometimes as high as 20 ft. And in that one moment, when the hard work of the past one month comes together to create magic, which will last for a few minutes before it goes out, every KGPian is proud and happy. Once the lighting is done, the tables (one over the other) are removed from in front of the structures in a mad rush in a matter of seconds, for the judges to see. The judges come and do their bit, and it all comes to an end. Ah, and yes, the halls that won't win, will go to sleep feeling sad and hungry  (because most of the eating joints are closed due to the festival) after the month-long sweat and toil they put in. On Diwali.

Tying of diyas in progress

Scene out of the Ramayana

Scene out of the Mahabharat

The Taj Mahal

Gautam Buddha

Lanka Dehan

A video of one of the Illu from '09 is embedded below:


If you read the Rangoli article on wikipedia, you will come to know what a Rangoli typically looks like. Rangoli at IIT Kharagpur is in no way like that. You can easily mistake a Rangoli here for a painting, when in fact, it's all just coloured powder. Work for the Rangoli begins days in advance, on a huge canvas (the floor), often as big as 15 ft X 10 ft. The work is done in sealed rooms, so that a crawling insect or the slightest wind doesn't ruin the design. And if that was not enough, we have out-of-the-box ingenuity coming every year, like a Rangoli which looks different in red ambient light, and different in green ambient light (also featured in 'Ripley's believe it or not'.), or one which is meant to be seen in a convex mirror. I know it will not make much sense, so I will let the pictures speak for themselves. 

Rangoli-making in progress

Different in Green...

...and different in red. (Video of transition at this link)

Final image seen on the convex mirror in the center

THAT's how KGPians celebrate diwali, and they wouldn't any other way. :)

Now, coming to the intent of this post. Nothing I have said in this post would be new to anyone who has been associated with IIT Kharagpur in any way. I feel that the quality of the illumination and rangoli is of such a standard that it deserves to be covered at least by the national media. If this post is able to give even a little idea about this tradition and culture of IIT Kharagpur to even a random visitor to this blog, I will be happy. Illu and Rangoli is something EVERY KGPian is proud of.

Public album on Facebook - Illumination and Rangoli, IIT KGP, 2010

Public album on Facebook - Illumination and Rangoli, IIT KGP, 2011

Illumination and Rangoli, IIT Kharagpur...