Throngs of students swathed in traditional saris, lenghas, suits and jeans entered Pomona College’s Edmunds Ballroom, removed
their shoes and prepared to celebrate the Hindu festival of Diwali. With hundreds of miniature candles, Christmas lights threaded
along the pillars, tables adorned with glowing diyas and entrances trimmed with the colored-powder rangoli, Edmunds seemed continents away on Nov. 9.
Diwali celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over
darkness. The Hindu New Year, it is a time of
awakening and evaluation in which people reflect on their lives and make a
fresh start. Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and those who practice other South Asian traditions celebrate
at home by eating with family and friends, cleaning their homes, lighting fireworks and exchanging gifts.
“I see it as an expression of my faith and a chance to reaffirm my beliefs,” Sabari Kumar PO ’17 said. “I was raised a practicing Hindu and, for as long as I can remember, Diwali was a time for my family to come together and celebrate the new year.”
Approximately 400 5C students came to share in this year’s celebration, an event co-sponsored by the Hindu Society and the Chaplain’s Office. The night began with puja, a Sanskrit prayer honoring Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity.
Students then enjoyed a free Indian dinner consisting of traditional dishes like Palak
Paneer, a spinach-based dish with cheese; Daal, a dish primarily of
spiced lentils; and Gulab Jaamun, dried milk balls that are slow-cooked and
boiled in sugar syrup.
“Some of the food was unlike anything I’ve had before,” Caroline Chmiel CM ’18 said. “It’s fun to get a taste of a different culture.”
Bollywood Dance Company (CBDC) performed three dances, drawing from both traditional
influences and modern dance styles. Bhangra, a popular style that combines Bollywood dance and hip-hop, originated as a
Punjabi folk dance celebrating the harvest.
Kathak, which takes its name from the Sanskrit word for story, is a classical Indian style. A Bollywood piece common in Indian pop-culture finished off the performance, and students began dancing to Bollywood music as the festivities came to an end.
“I really love to be
a part of this group because it gives me a chance to share my culture with not
just my friends, but the whole 5C community,” CBDC member Shaneli Jain CM ’18 said. “I hope they enjoy watching us
perform as much as we love to dance.”
Hindu Society has been hosting a Diwali celebration for the past five years and has
expanded each year to accommodate increasing numbers of guests. Last year, the
projected attendance was 300 students, and over 400 students attended. This
year, the attendance topped last year’s numbers again, with Hindu and non-Hindu
students alike sharing in the experience.
“The event is for all students to participate in, and we’re
really excited to have those who don’t come from these traditions to be a
part of this incredible event,” co-president Sanjana Rao CM ’15 said.
attendance is mostly non-South Asian students, the organization aims to share the culture and traditions with the entirety of the Claremont community in an accessible way.
The prayer session, for example, is translated into English so that all
students will have the opportunity to become more familiar with the Hindu
“I think Diwali is a beautiful way for me to teach the
ideology I hold close to my heart with other people,” Rao said.