One of India’s biggest holidays, and an event that arguably has the best light show out of any celebration, Diwali, is among one of the most celebrated festivities in the world. The University of Redlands hosted a dinner in honor and in commemoration of the Hindu holiday which is often referred to as “Festival of Lights,” and is not only celebrated by subscribers of the Hindu tradition, but is also celebrated on an international scale by people of all faiths. In India, Diwali is celebrated as a massive festival that is also celebrated by the Islamic and Sikh population, but the holiday is not confined to Indian borders; it is prevalent in several nations across the globe, particularly in Trinidad, Pakistan and Britain.
Since the Hindu calendar is based on the sun and the moon, the date for Diwali changes every year, and this year it was celebrated on Oct. 19. Leela MadhavaRau spoke at the U of R’s dinner event, and was one of the speakers that informed us about what happens on Diwali, and why it is celebrated. The common message of Diwali is the triumph of good over evil, but different areas and people attribute various Hindu stories to the origin of the holiday. One story demonstrating the conquering of evil, was that of the Hindu God Krishna’s victory over the demon Narakasura. While this is one story associated to the celebration, a more popular Hindu epic for those in North India is Ramayana, which also focuses on the triumph of good over evil. Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of the god Vishnu, returned to his kingdom after spending 14 years in exile, once he defeated the demon king, Ravana.
The different speakers at the campus event shared what they do on Diwali, and gave the attendees multiple perspectives. Although the various stories tied to the holiday is important, what is valued more is celebrating with family and friends, and having a good time overall. One perspective of Diwali was shared by a fellow Redlands student, Komz Muthyalu.
“To me, Diwali is about celebration and fun. I don’t think I even bothered to learn about the history or traditions behind it. It was when we would all dress up, turn all the lights off at home and light diyas all around, have family over and eat tons and tons of sweets. We would light fireworks at the back of the building where I would always meet new people in my apartment community. It’s my favorite festival.”
There were others who shared the same sentiments, and valued celebrating with family over the celebration of the stories tied to the family.
Another observance, more popular in Western and Northern India, is the festival being devoted to the goddess of wealth and prosperity, Lakshmi. These are all examples of the purpose of celebrating Diwali, but each one revolves around the concept of good overcoming evil and positivity over negativity.
One of the most popular customs of Diwali is the lighting of lamps. Many people also light fireworks as a way to scare off evil spirits and to welcome the prosperity and fortune of Lakshmi. Other celebratory customs include an exchange of sweets, food, gifts, and dance. Celebratory feasts are one of the most symbolic practices of Diwali, taking days of preparation prior to the holiday.
At the Diwali dinner on campus, attendees were given fantastic food and listened to various stories of how others celebrate the Festival of Lights. We were taught that one of the best ways that we can expel negativity and express positivity is through dance, and dancing is exactly what occurred at the dinner. We were asked if there was anyone who would like to participate in learning an Indian style dance, which was exciting to see. There were many volunteers for the dance who got on stage to demonstrate it for us, and their performance was fantastic. The food was amazing as well, as we were served pita bread along with Samosas and rice pudding. Along with food and dance, we were all shown how people around the world celebrate the holiday, much of which showed fireworks over big cities and masses of different people coming together to celebrate.
Having the Diwali dinner was a kind gesture of the University of Redlands to welcome and cater to those who may be away from family for the celebration, acknowledging the different minority groups on campus and help them feel more at home.
photos courtesy of reporter, Blue Andrade.