Northwestern holds first institution-backed celebration of Diwali


Angeli Mittal/Daily Senior Staffer

Diwali, meaning the “row of lights” in Sanskrit, celebrates light over darkness and symbolizes a new year filled with wealth and prosperity in Hinduism. Hindu Chaplain Amar Shah (Weinberg ‘16) leads a ceremony to celebrate the holiday with NU students, faculty and staff.

Sydney Hogan, Reporter

Northwestern’s first-ever institution-backed celebration of Diwali included a gathering in Cahn Auditorium, a student-created display of nearly 5,000 diyas across campus and Indian dishes in all major dining halls.

Religious & Spiritual Life, OM at Northwestern and the South Asian Students Alliance sponsored the Thursday celebration. Amar Shah (Weinberg ’16), NU’s first Hindu chaplain, said University support for the holiday was significant for NU’s Hindu community. 

Diwali, sometimes referred to as the “Festival of Lights,” is one of India’s biggest celebrations of the year. Nov. 4 marked the third and most important day of Diwali, a five-day festival celebrated within the Hindu, Jain and Sikh communities. Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness. The holiday celebrates life and provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships. 

Individual student groups such as the Indian Graduate Students and Scholars Association, OM at Northwestern and SASA have celebrated the holiday before without the support of University-wide events. 

“The fact that it (was) celebrated at the White House and not at Northwestern … was something that we wanted to create some change for,” Shah said.

Shah began the ceremony in Cahn with a short introduction and invocation of the divine, offering flowers and sweets to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune. Afterward, Yuva Rhythms, a Hindu fusion music group, performed devotional music. Following the concert, Shah gave a speech about sixfold wealth, a Hindu concept about how to live a life rich with meaning. 

OM co-President and Weinberg sophomore Arushi Tiwari said talks about having an official Diwali celebration have happened for years. With Shah’s appointment, OM and other organizations finally had the resources to make it happen.

Tiwari added that the organizations wanted to focus on having a more traditional and religious celebration of Diwali. Serving Indian dishes in the dining halls was also an important component of the celebration to Tiwari.

“(The food is) a great way for students of Indian descent to feel a little more cared for on the day,” Tiwari said. “It’s really exciting for us.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Julie Payne-Kirchmeier also gave a speech about the beauty of Diwali. The ceremony concluded with Shah singing a closing prayer and mantra. After the ceremony, Yuva Rhythms held another concert.

Third-year graduate student Nikhil Khandelwal said he enjoyed the concert, and the ceremony was a nice break from his schoolwork.

“I really found it quite soothing,” Khandelwal said. “I really enjoyed the vocals and the music as a whole.”

Now that NU has officially backed a Diwali celebration, Shah said he wants the University to recognize Diwali, as well as other Hindu celebrations, as schoolwide holidays. More than 800 students identify as Hindu across the University, according to Shah.

Tiwari said she is hopeful NU will continue to support celebrations of Hindu holidays. 

“There are more Hindu festivals that happen in spring, like Holi,” Tiwari said. “If we could work towards some things for those events as well, that would be great.”


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