Candles lit up the walkway and the steps leading to the Tower as a priest performed traditional prayers Thursday on the Main Mall, and students celebrated an occasion that represents the triumph of righteousness over evil.
The Hindu Students Association sponsored the celebration in recognition of Diwali, or the Indian festival of lights. The event’s theme, “Welcome to Ayodhya,” is an expression and exploration of Hindu religious and cultural heritage, referring to the myth of Lord Rama and his victory over the demon Ravana.
“Diwali is the most auspicious occasion for Hindus,” said Apurva Batra, a mechanical engineering senior and core officer of HSA. “It is quite appropriate to say that holiday spirit during Diwali is analogous to that of Christmas.”
Diwali is a festival that is celebrated in Hindu households around the world with family gatherings that include candles, lanterns, fireworks and prayer to strengthen ties within families and with God. Gifts and sweets are also exchanged, and many Hindu families choose to clean their homes and buy new items for themselves at this time because Diwali also signifies the beginning of a new year in the Hindu calendar.
At the festival, a priest performed a religious ceremony called a “havan” around a fire in front of dozens of students and explained the significance of important Hindu scriptures. Each student was given a bag of rice and a candle, as an offering to the goddess Lakshmi.
“Fire is a symbol of knowledge and light, so we wanted everyone to have their own candle to give an offering,” said Kajal Mehta, a Plan II senior and co-chair for HSA Diwali. “Diwali is a joyous time to celebrate life and renewal.”
The festival delivers hope for a peaceful and prosperous new year. Candles, oil lanterns and fireworks illustrate the defeat of darkness.
“In diverse settings, it’s important to understand where we all come from and gain an appreciation for different cultures,” Batra said. “Since Hindus represent an appreciable fraction of the student body at UT, I feel that it is our goal as Hindus to educate others about our beliefs and festivities.”
A carnival included booths where students explained the myths of Diwali and passed out candy and other treats. Fireworks marked the end of the celebration.
“Usually, there is an offer to the Hindu goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, for good fortune for the coming year,” said Joel Brereton, associate professor of religious studies. “Often, there will be regional variations depending on dominant traditions in certain areas over another.”
Hindu families traditionally light diyas, small candles around their homes. Statues of Ravana are also constructed and burned throughout India with fireworks.
“Especially in a time of globalization, it’s important to understand other cultures and see how similar we all are,” Mehta said.