The Indian Student Association and Hindu Student Council joined forces this past Thursday in Ern Commons to celebrate Diwali — the Hindu festival of lights.
Coming from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali” — meaning “row of lighted lamps” — Diwali festivities highlight the glimmering themes of light and positivity. The celebration emphasizes honoring Lakshmi — the Hindu goddess of prosperity — and rings in the beginning of the Hindu new year.
Because the holiday follows the Hindu Lunar Calendar, the exact dates change every year. However, the five-day celebration — with the third day representing the height of festivity — always occurs sometime between mid-October and mid-November. This year the celebrations lasted from Nov. 5 to Nov. 9.
Revathi Mohan, a third-year Engineering student and co-president of the HSC celebrates Diwali every year and offered insight into the deeper meaning behind the festive holiday.
“A purpose of Diwali is to celebrate good over evil, light over darkness — it’s a time to reflect on all that’s good in my life,” Mohan said. “A lot of people try to do that for the holiday, to appreciate, understand and share all the positives and how good triumphs over evil.”
The ISA and HSC focused on fostering an event of unity where Hindu students, as well as non-religious students, could join together to celebrate a piece of Indian culture.
“Being in Charlottesville is pretty difficult as a Hindu there’s no temple or place for us to celebrate or pray together,” Mohan said. “So our main purpose is to unite the Hindu student body to be able to worship together.”
While the event primarily attracted Hindu students, the ISA and HSC welcomed anyone to join in the celebration of ancient tradition.
Karunya Iyappan, a third-year Batten student and advocacy chair of the ISA, said she appreciated the opportunity to bring Diwali to the University for those who couldn’t go home to celebrate.
“The fact that we’re even holding [Diwali] is really great because I wasn’t able to go back home to celebrate with my family,” Karunya said. “It’s nice to be able to have that small part of home back here, even though it might be in a different context, it’s still fun and a great way to stay connected to our roots.”
While the event couldn’t bring student’s families to Charlottesville to join in the holiday’s typical, customary family feasts, the ISA and HSC provided traditional Indian food and a dessert called “gulab jamun” for club members to enjoy in communion with one another.
Given the religious nature of the event, its coordinators worked hard to ensure that key traditional elements of the holiday were not forgotten. Attendees got to see what a true Diwali celebration typically entails and could learn to respect and appreciate the cultural aspect of such radiant festivity.
“The classic image of Diwali is a symbol of the Diya, which is a lamp with a little flame,” Mohan said. “A typical celebration would be lighting those around a temple or home. It’s literally the festival of lights, so you’re trying to bring light into your home, to celebrate that there’s light over darkness.”
A big portion of the event’s festivities consisted of creating beautiful “rangolis” — an original Indian art form in which creators arrange colorful rice, sand, flour or other materials in unique patterns often to resemble flowers or varying geometric shapes. Using colored flour, the attendees formed different patterns and had the chance to test out their rangoli-making skills.
To many students at the University, the Diwali festival represented more than a fun social gathering — it was a way for students to bring a piece of their culture to Grounds and share a meaningful religious celebration with their friends, peers and community.
“Family is a significant aspect of every holiday,” Mohan said. “Unfortunately we can’t all be with family at home right now, but celebrating with my family at U.Va. and knowing they’re here for me at activities and events like this one is a great feeling.”