Students celebrate Hindu holiday Diwali in Parkes Hall

Chris Kirk

Click here to view an audio slideshow of Friday night’s Diwali celebration.

As Homecoming weekend kicked off Friday night, more than 100 Hindu students sat with their heads bowed over candle flames, echoing the Sanskrit chants of the priest inviting Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth, to bestow prosperity upon the upcoming year of the Hindu calendar.

Hindus from around the campus – and a few curious non-Hindus – crowded Parkes Hall to celebrate Diwali, a religious holiday with numerous meanings in Hindu lore. The Om Hindu Cultural Council sponsored the event, which also marks the beginning of the Hindu New Year. This year, the holiday occurs on Oct. 28.

“It’s a very different religion in that you celebrate it within your family, and now here it’s like you have a bigger family to celebrate it with,” said Weinberg freshman Manisha Bhatia.

After mingling for half an hour, the group sat down on the floor and the puja, the prayer ceremony, began. Each participant sat down over a plate that held ceremonial items, called a thali. Items included a picture of Lakshmi, a banana pierced with incense sticks and a bowl of water for applying red marking called a chandlo to the forehead.

In the course of the ceremony, each participant applied the chandlo to another person’s forehead, a ritual that celebrates intellect. Each participant also tied a rakhi, a bracelet signifying love and protection, to another’s wrist.

The priest, garbed entirely in white, chanted in Sanskrit and invited God into the room by tinkling a bell.

The puja concluded with prayer in the form of song. Afterwards, McCormick juniors Janani Ganesh and Pallavi Sriram sang to the beat of McCormick junior Sidharth Garg on tablas, Indian drums.

“Religion, for me, is through my music,” Ganesh said. “All the songs that we sing are in faith for God. That’s my way of praying.”

Dinner followed featuring navratan korma, an Indian dish of curried vegetables, and fried balls of sweet dough called gulab jamun for dessert.

“I felt a little out of place, but I liked it, and I felt it helped me increase my understanding of cultural differences on campus,” said Dana Nickson, a Weinberg sophomore.

Nickson, a Christian, said she felt the event gave her a better understanding of Hindu students.

“(You) get to see something that is part of their heart, part of who they are, instead of just seeing them as someone who’s been in my history class,” Nickson said.

SESP senior Nikolai Smith is not a Hindu, but he said he comes every year.

“The symbolism in it is amazing,” he said.

Mira Radadia, Om’s publicity chairwoman, said she was pleased with the turnout.

“This is more than we expected, considering Homecoming,” the Weinberg junior said.

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Click here to view an audio slideshow of Friday night’s Diwali celebration.