Diwali Lights up The New Year

Students dance in colorful traditional dress.
(Justin Sleppy • The Student Life)

Diwali is a widely-observed Hindu holiday that celebrates the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. This year’s Diwali festival was celebrated on Sunday, Nov. 15, at Pomona College’s Edmunds Ballroom. Hosted by the Claremont Hindu Society with support from a variety of campus organizations, the celebration welcomed students and faculty from all five colleges as well as the greater Claremont community.

The night began with a traditional prayer led by a Pomona student who sang shlokas (traditional poetry) followed by a bhajan (devotional song). The prayer was followed by a huge dinner, free and enjoyable to all. Some highlights included dal makhani, a dish made from lentils and kidney beans; palak paneer, a paste of spinach and tomato sauce; and gulab jamun, a traditional dessert of fried sweetened dough eaten during special occasions. In addition, guests were served dishes like paneer mak hani, aloo tikka, naan, and rice.

“It was nice that they had vegetarian food because traditionally nobody eats meat, consumes alcohol or takes part in any vices during this religious day,” Romanshi Mittal Gupta SC ’19 said.

Following the delicious food was a host of perfomances from Bollywood and the traditional classical dances of Bharat Natyam and Kathak. Claremont Tamasha, the 5C Bollywood Dance group, performed two dances over the course of the evening, followed by the melodious voices of students who sang Hindi songs.

One of the most important parts of the evening was the Puja, a ritual performed every Diwali.

“It was nice to see the idols and the entire Puja,” Gupta said. “It made me feel like I was back home. But at the same time, Diwali is a festival that is celebrated very differently in everyone’s homes. At my home we do Diya Puja followed by Lakshmi Puja and in someone else’s home it might be different. So there will always be space for people to complain.”

The night ended with an open dance floor where everyone danced, taught each other typical Bollywood steps, and enjoyed the positive vibes of the space.

“I wish the Puja wasn’t this long so everyone could enjoy it more,” Sujay Singh PZ ’19 said. “Because there were people who were not used to sitting for such pujas, crying babies, and people who didn’t know what the ceremony meant exactly. But the festivities made me very happy.”

The origins of Diwali, also known as the festival of lights, are seen in many different stories across the ages. One of the most prominent stories of Diwali goes back to the Ramayana, a religious text of Hinduism. This is the day when King Rama, who was exiled from his home Ayodhaya for 14 years, returned to his homeland and brought back the light to his people. On this day many people can be seen lighting oil lamps outside their homes to celebrate his return and guide him back. Sanskrit shlokas are sung in praise of God, asking him to bless us and show us the right path in the following days of our lives.

The day following Diwali is celebrated as a New Year in the Hindu calendar. This is when people celebrate a renewed spirit and the idea of second chances by wishing each other “Saal Mubarak,” which means Happy New Year in Hindi, and hugging each other to let go of any hostility.

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