With Smiles and Sparklers, Swarthmore Students Celebrate Diwali
by Lindsey Norward and Aru Shiney-Ajay
A powerful site to see, on October 26th, Thursday night, Deshi, Swarthmore’s South Asian Organization, hosted Diwali, an Indian celebration of light. Hosted by Co-Presidents Siddharth Srivatsan ‘20 and Malini Kohli ‘20, the event took place on the front porch of Parrish Hall and the surrounding area. Tea lights, or diyas, lit the path and the steps as onlookers looked on with visible excitement as “Happy Diwalis!” and hugs with peers, many in traditional Indian garb including in kurtas, salwar kameez, and saris, filled the atmosphere.
Diwali, also called Deepavali or the Festival of Lights, originated in ancient India and has now spread across the world. Although it is traditionally a Hindu festival, people of many religions across India, Nepal, Malaysia, Guyana, and various other countries spanning the globe celebrate. Different regions have various myths about Diwali and what it celebrates, but across the world it is a triumph of light over darkness, and right over wrong.
Kohli and Srivatsan voiced the significance of planning Diwali. “Diwali is important because it is the celebration of good over evil, and it’s one of the most celebrated holidays where I come from in India.”
“It’s one of the few holidays that mark a connection between the different cultures in India. North Indians and South Indians have many different holidays but this is one of the few that brings us all together” said Srivatsan.
“It brings a lot of India together,” Kohli chimed in. “It’s nice to have the Swarthmore community gathered around for Diwali and its importance.”
The night began in preparation with authentic Indian music as members of the Swarthmore community helped each other draw a rangoli, an art form often written on the floor or ground in places where Diwali is held. The rangoli designs are passed down from generations, creating traditions amongst facets of Indian culture and lit with candles. This time, it was drawn and designed with colored powder and surrounded by diyas, in the front of Magill Walk.
The celebration began at 8pm with introductions by the Deshi Executive Board. Harsha Sen, a junior from Calcutta, India, voiced the personal significance of Diwali to his own heritage. Sen chronicled how it is celebrated in Calcutta, and how it may differ from how Diwali is celebrated in Delhi or Bombay.
“Growing up, I didn’t really observe many religious traditions on Diwali itself. My father grew up a couple hours outside of Calcutta, and he has memories of staying up all night for Kali Puja and other traditions, but the memories I have are full of a bunch of crazy firecrackers” Sen began. In a powerful speech, Sen went into great detail about his childhood memories of Diwali, the significance of appreciating different traditions, and his experiences of learning about Diwali and reflecting on how it is celebrated across India.
“I think what's really neat about Diwali for me, aside from the fireworks, is thinking how different people celebrate this festival differently. Different regions have different myths surrounding it, and some communities reject the festival entirely. I think that tells us a lot about how varied and vibrant the subcontinent really is” Sen wrote to Voices.
With applause began the distribution of sparklers to celebrate the return of light. One of the most common Diwali stories is about celebrating the return of Ram, his wife Sita, and the god Hanuman after Ram defeats the demon Ravana. The people of Ayodhya, a kingdom in ancient India, lit diyas to light their way home and celebrate the triumph of good over evil.
As the sparklers died down, food was served. Indian sweets–mithai– including gulab jamun and gajar ka halwa, were served with chai as onlookers celebrated. The night dissolved into great conversation, genuine laughs and smiles, and overall, an appreciation of culture that many students bring with them to Swarthmore.
“I’m a freshman here, and Diwali here was really fun. The best part is that everyone was here in their ethnic wear. Everyone was in, for example, saris, and it’s really nice to see everyone in their Indian clothes” said Hari Srinivasulu ‘21 about his first Diwali at Swarthmore. “Apart from that, just like everyone else, I miss home. It’s nice to do the things I would be doing at home if I were celebrating Diwali.”
Deshi will also be holding other events, including a Bollywood Party being rescheduled for November 11th in Paces. Look out in your emails and in Voices’ bulletin for other events.
photos by Pavan Kalidindi