Diwali: The Festival of Lights

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Kiera Lindner

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October 7, 2019


More than one hundred people, including President Troha, came to Ellis Ballroom from 6 to 8 p.m on Wednesday, November 7th to celebrate Diwali, a Hindu holiday celebrated every autumn on a new moon. Nitya Chagti, who organized and hosted this year’s observance of the holiday as well as Juniata’s first commemoration of Diwali two years ago, described Diwali as a “festival of lights” appreciated for “welcoming prosperity, wealth, and newness into life.”

“It’s a festival in which a family gets together and laughs and has a good time,” summed up Nitya, “because they know prosperity is coming.”

Students and faculty ate Indian food under strings of lights in the ballroom as Nitya told the story of Diwali, which can also be found in the ancient Sanskrit epic The Ramayana. In the story, a prince and incarnation of the god Vishnu named Rama, along with his brother and the monkey king Hanuman, rescues his kidnapped wife Sita from the ten-headed demon king Ravana before returning victoriously to his capital city Ajodhya as king. Because there was no moon to light Rama’s path back, the people created a path of lights to guide his way home, which is now remembered in the tradition of lighting small candles called diyas when celebrating Diwali.

Chagti also spoke of several other traditions associated with Diwali, including the offering of sweet foods to the gods; the cleaning of homes to welcome Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity; and the exchange of gifts between friends and family. When asked what her favorite part of Diwali was, Chagti said it was the holiday’s characteristic lights.

The food and storytelling was followed by dancing to popular Indian music. Many students expressed enjoyment of the event. In a later interview, Chagti said she was “proud” of Juniata’s work at enhancing campus diversity, and said that she has “seen nothing but support for cultural events” from the senior leadership team. Among those in the administration who supported her and were “integral in helping me bring this small slice of diversity on campus, Chagti said, were the President’s Office, the Center for International Education, and Campus Ministry, the Religion Department, and Language in Motion.

Speaking of Diwali, Chagti added that she hoped the celebration of good over evil would bring “some amount of peace and happiness to Juniata as well as [expand] the students’ horizons.” Her dream is to discover that someone developed an interest in other cultures and languages or was inspired to travel abroad because of the Diwali celebration.