Diwali celebration at DePauw "complete cultural event"


Jasmine-scented incense, multicolored lights and images of idols graced the Center for Spiritual Life's sanctuary Tuesday evening as DePauw students gathered for the campus Diwali event.
The Hindu holiday was celebrated by DePauw students and faculty members inside and outside the faith on Tuesday, Nov. 13 from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Center for Spiritual Life.
Senior Yashaswee Malla led a short prayer ceremony at the beginning of the event and provided a brief background about the holiday to the group of people encircling the candlelit sanctuary after removing their shoes.
"It is the Festival of Lights," Malla said. "It's celebrated wherever Hindus reside."
Different sects of the religion have different interpretations of Diwali, but the celebration essentially commemorates the Hindu god Lord Rama's victory over the demon-king Ravana, a triumph of good over evil marking the beginning of the Hindu New Year.
After the prayer ceremony, organizers dressed in traditional attire and attendees mingled in the prayer room amidst Indian music. All had the opportunity to hold incense sticks to offer reverence to the idol and get a red tilak (or tikka) mark on their foreheads, prior to sampling a buffet of catered Indian food.
Malla chose to be a part of planning the Diwali event because it's always been one of her favorite holidays - a time that family would pray together and appreciate what they have.
"It signifies prosperity for the year to come, and just a time to appreciate the good in life and just be happy," Malla said. "I wanted to spread that same sort of happiness and festivity at DePauw as well."
Since Diwali is actually a five-day event, celebrating for only a couple hours can make the holiday feel "cut short" for Malla. This particular Diwali event, however, stood out among the other celebrations hosted at DePauw for Malla because this time there was a full meal served rather than just snacks, and they got to host a prayer for the first time.
"This time, it actually felt like a complete cultural event," Malla said.
When preparing for the event, she wasn't sure how many attendees to plan for. In the past, the event has been seen as a "come and go" event. But this year, she said the most exciting part of the event was the turnout.
"There was so much love and so much happiness going on today," Malla said. "I felt like I was at home."
Junior Aashray Patel, who also helped plan the Diwali event, noted a few things about this particular event that stood out among celebrations from years prior, such as food and the presence of idols in the prayer room.
"It felt more spiritual, more like what it actually is back home," Patel said. "There were a lot of people from outside the faith, too."
Though there were some struggles with how to represent the holiday, such as getting the word out to people and funding, Patel enjoyed the opportunity to work with different people to put together the event.
"I just like Diwali a lot," Patel said. "Since it's so big in India, I felt we needed to do something to celebrate the occasion."
Patel thinks it's important for people who don't celebrate Diwali to attend the event because learning about other people's cultures is a part of a liberal arts education. He also thinks the attendees responded positively to the event.
"People I spoke to seemed to enjoy it.," Patel said. "They didn't feel uncomfortable or anything. [They] got into the spirit of it, the holy spiritual feeling."
Attendee David Alvarez, an associate professor of English, said he was impressed by all the people who attended the event and how the ritual elements reminded him of India which made him miss his Indian friends.
"This is the best Diwali event I've ever been to," Alvarez said.
Alvarez said that his favorite part of the evening was getting the red tilak (or tikka) dotted on his forehead.
Senior Jamie Story, who also attended the event, said that her favorite part was the Indian food, but she enjoyed all parts of the evening.
"It was kind of cool to experience a different culture and a different religious ceremony than what I'm used to," Story said. "I thought it was really well done."
Raj Bellani, dean of experiential learning and career planning, helped the student planners get the food for the event and remained at the Center until the very end.
He said the most exciting part about putting it together was seeing all the people come to the event, and he tried to involve everybody who arrived.
"I think they enjoyed themselves," Bellani said. "We tried to make it casual."
Bellani, who said he comes from a long history of people from the Hindu religion, thinks the best parts of Diwali are people wishing each other well for the New Year and the "good sweets."
Bellani is planning to celebrate Diwali both at home and school, even though it is different at DePauw.
"At home, you have the family, you have friends. ... tradition," Bellani said. "At school, we all come together away from family and create a family of friends."