The Hindu Society, Ekta (the 5C South Asian Club), and the Office of the Chaplains held a celebration of Diwali at the McAlister Center Nov. 12. Diwali is an annual Hindu festival, often referred to as the “festival of lights,” which celebrates the homecoming of Lord Rama after fourteen years in exile. It marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year and is celebrated with much enthusiasm by South Asians. Traditionally, families make elaborate feasts, meet friends and family, and set off firecrackers to mark the day. Diwali is also referred to as ‘Deepavali’, which translates to a “row of lamps.” It is customary to decorate homes with earthen lamps called “diyas” on the night of Diwali.
The celebration began with a prayer ceremony that was followed by dinner of Indian dishes.
“Even if some students are not religiously inclined, in times of festivity, food and celebrations bring people together,” said Rabbi Daveen H. Litwin, Chaplain at the McAlister Center.
The prayer ceremony was conducted by Ekta chair Prab Upadrashta PO ’12. Upadrashta recited hymns and then chanted ‘mantras’ from Vedic texts.
“The prayer was a very mellow and quiet. I felt calm,” said Morgan Halley SC ’13, who attended the prayer ceremony.
“The ‘light’ of Diwali refers to the indwelling effulgence of the Self, the soul, or Atma (in Sanskrit). One of the primary prayers from Saturday’s puja was the Gayatri mantra, which equates the radiance of the Sun to the brilliance of the universal human spirit,” said Upadrashta. “In Hinduism and other Dharmic faiths, light is a powerful metaphor for knowledge and wisdom—Diwali marks the kindling of the infinite and divine Atma in our hearts.”
Both South Asians students who miss eating traditional home-cooked food and other students who are fond of Indian food flocked to the tables when dinner was served.
“The food was amazing. It was the best Indian food I have had in a long time,” said Shrivats Khaitan CM ’14.
The event was attended by many students besides South Asian students.
“It is not just about students celebrating their own traditions, but also letting others learn your own culture. And that’s what we like about such events,” Rabbi Litwin said.
“I especially appreciated the diversity of the crowd,” said Roshini Kakaiya SC ’12, a member of the Hindu Society. “I believe the purpose of Diwali is to include as many people as possible in celebrating the triumph of good over evil. The fact that so many people came, stayed for the Puja, and then enjoyed the food afterward made me very happy because I felt that I was including them wholeheartedly into our culture!”
The fact that the celebration was held two weeks after the official date of Diwali (Oct. 26) did take away some of the significance of the event for some.
“The charm of Diwali was not the same, because the original date had already passed, but nonetheless, I was excited that the 5Cs were celebrating Diwali,” Khaitan said.
However, Vaidehi Bansal CM ’15 said that she was happy that there was a celebration regardless of the delay.
“Though it was two weeks since the actual date of Diwali, the celebration made me feel at home. I appreciated the food variety and neat display,” Bansal said.
Some of the South Asian students, excited to be celebrating Diwali, were concerned that there were not enough celebrations of South Asian festivals at the Claremont Colleges.
“The colleges do focus on major South Asian festivals like Diwali and Holi. However, it would be nice if we had more, smaller, close-knit get-togethers often,” Bansal said.
“It is important for the community to come more together often. There is such a large population of South Asians at the 5Cs,” agreed Vritti Goel SC’12.
Upadrashta said that student organizations are trying to organize more South Asian events at the 5Cs.
“During my first year, the South Asian community here in Claremont was much smaller, with only a handful of students at the Colleges… Ekta was still around, but the scale of our events was smaller, with Sanskriti (the annual culture show) being the most prominent,” he said. “Early last year, a few of us decided to revive Ekta… There is definitely a renewed interest on campus in the culture and traditions of the subcontinent, and I hope that as the South Asian community at the Colleges continues to grow, there will be more opportunities for cultural expression,” Upadrashta added.
Kakaiya, too, was optimistic.
“I think that with the revival of both Hindu Society and Ekta there definitely are [more opportunities] now. We show movies, go into LA for Garba (dance festival), celebrate Diwali and Holi, dance together, have smaller scale Pujas in our dorm rooms. The community is definitely starting to soar,” she said.