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Diwali: a Festival of Light

On Sunday, Nov. 4, prior to the internationally accepted date, Nov. 9, which is established by the lunar calendar, the Hindu Students Community (HSC) hosted a Diwali Puja four stories above Grand Boulevard.

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Diwali: a Festival of Light

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Last week, one of the four major religions celebrated its most important holiday—a joyous festivity of illumination, spirituality, familial and amicable gathering and decoration.

Diwali.

There are approximately one billion people who practice Hinduism globally, according to Pew Research Center. Due to the celebration’s prominence in the religion and culture, Diwali is practiced by a majority of those Hindus.

On Sunday, Nov. 4, prior to the internationally accepted date, Nov. 9, which is established by the lunar calendar, the Hindu Students Community (HSC) hosted a Diwali Puja four stories above Grand Boulevard.

As estimated by HSC e-board personnel, over 200 people filed into the Sinquefield Stateroom of DuBourg Hall for the religious celebration, many of whom were adorned in traditional Indian attire.  

Diwali is called the festival of light: light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance.

As a candle casts both light and heat to a cold, dark room, Diwali brings forth radiance and warmth to the Hindu community.

“Students might be doing that at home and we want to provide that opportunity here, today, to do the same thing, right: to eat great food together, to conversate, to be in that like loving environment—that warm environment,” said Neej Patel, President of HSC.

“And, I think that is what Diwali really stands for.”

Since the 2006-2007 school year when the HSC became a certified student organization (CSO), the Diwali Puja has occurred on campus annually, according to Patel.

“It actually started in a small classroom, way back when about 11 years ago. But now, it’s grown obviously into something huge, and it’s great because lots of these students do exactly this at home. They’re away from their families, and so we kind of become their family for this one event and even then, after that, as a community, as a whole Hindu community,” he explained.

The event consisted of a brief information session about Hinduism and Diwali, a Puja—or worship ritual—to the goddess Lakshmi, a pre-meal prayer, a complimentary feast and a nocturnal sparkler activity on the Quad.

The Puja was conducted by a Hindu priest in order to make offering to Lakshmi, who brings forth prosperity and wealth. The Puja was accompanied by singing and rhythmic drumming and clapping.

After the Puja and a quick prayer, the participants broke from their religious adherence to dine in each other’s company.

The ceremony ended out in the cool November air.

Participants ignited handheld sparklers and waved them in front of themselves.

The jubilation, creased from cheek to cheek, could be seen as the sporadic flares lit their faces.

Saint Louis University has a well-defined identity within the Catholic, Jesuit mission. A core aspect of that mission involves the inclusivity and respect of all traditions, beliefs and value systems.

It is within this environment that Hindu students on campus are able to freely practice their faith.

SLU’s foundation in inclusivity also establishes an open environment for pedagogy, for non-Hindus to garner respect for Hinduism by understanding its people, principles and practices.

“[I]t’s open to all students here at SLU, and I really feel it really goes hand in hand with SLU’s inclusion and diversity not only as just statements but… [as] atmosphere as well…[M]any students might not have the opportunity to attend something like this in their hometowns, or they might not be open to attending something like this, or might not even know of something like this going around” said Patel.

In India, schools and businesses closed for the entire week to celebrate Diwali.

Many of the SLU students were unable to return home to celebrate with their families. However, HSC’s observance of Diwali did enable Hindu students to practice some of their traditions at SLU.

Pooja Modi, a sophomore at SLU, stated, “I wish I could go home because on Tuesday and this entire week my family is going to be celebrating Diwali and doing Pujas…Being at SLU and having this opportunity to celebrate Diwali here…it reminds of back home; it brings me back into my culture. It’s never like I’m missing out on something because they always do it here.”

Nirali Shah, also a sophomore, had similar sentiments of celebrating at SLU: “It’s very nostalgic because it reminds me of home, and it’s good to have something. It’s obviously not the same as I celebrate at home. At least it’s something.”

Both Modi and Shah admitted that with busy schedules and separation from home—the separation from religious and cultural stimuli—that it is often difficult for them to engage in their religion.

“I wouldn’t say I do, actually. Usually just when I go home. I think it’s pretty hard to here. I mean, there [are] the Puja rooms through [the HSC] agency, but it’s kind of hard to find time,” Shah said, about practicing her Hindu faith on campus.

Modi is limited to morning prayer, in which she prays to God in gratitude for waking up and the day ahead of her.  

“So, it’s just a little way that I try to bring [my faith] in,” she said.

HSC’s Diwali Puja encouraged students like Modi and Shah to rekindle the practice of their faith.

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