Diwali lights up University campus


Courtesy of Surender Mathur

Photo of Megha Mathur celebrating Diwali at home.

By Shahzmeen Hussain

As the five-day celebration begins Wednesday, the University will not lack Diwali celebrations; a strong Indian presence is on this side of the world. One of the most anticipated events by the Indian Graduate Students’ Association (IGSA) is their annual Diwali on the Quad, which is scheduled for Nov. 13 at 6 p.m. Attendees light up the Main Quad pathways with tea light candles, and Foellinger Auditorium serves as the perfect backdrop.

For Nitesh Shashikanthss, graduate student in Biochemistry and active member of IGSA. “It symbolizes the conquering of evil by good or darkness by light.”

The tea light candles are a replacement for the traditionally used clay diyas (earthen lamps), several of which are placed at various corners of an Indian household. Another tradition includes rangoli, a creative expression of art that takes place the first day of the festival. Designs are created on courtyard or living room floors as a symbol of welcoming guests.

“[Rangoli] is the best moment of the whole weekend,” said Megha Mathurss, junior in AHS and LAS and also the president of Delta Kappa Delta – the South Asian service sorority on campus. “My mom made the big design in the middle, and it was always the same design every year — and I got to decorate the edges.”

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    Apart from the extravagant decorations, authentic Indian food is an integral part of all South Asian celebrations. To incorporate this, Diwali- themed meals will be served at all University dining halls on November 11ss.

    As a tradition in her family, Mathur’s mother makes besan ladoos – ball-shaped sweets made of flour, minced dough, sugar and gram flour – for Diwali every year.

    “My mom starts making traditional Diwali snacks days before the five-day festival actually starts,” said Shravak Shah,ss junior in LAS as well as Indian Student Association’s (ISA) cultural awareness co-chair.

    For a typical Hindu family, the actual day of Diwali begins with morning rituals. These include performing pooja, or prayers, making Indian snacks or sweets, decorating the house with rangoli and lights, or diyas, and finally dressing up in traditional clothing and gold jewelry. The rest of the day is spent visiting or welcoming family and friends, wishing each other a “Happy Diwali!”

    On a college campus, however, the goal is to share this culture and these traditions with those who don’t celebrate Diwali. ISA hosts Diwali Night annually, which is scheduled for this Saturday with dinner at 5 p.m. followed by the cultural show at 7 p.m.ss

    “Celebrating Diwali away from home without family just isn’t the same,” Shah said. “I always look forward to these traditions on campus because they’re a great way for everyone to get involved on campus, whether they celebrate Diwali or not.”

    The Hindu Temple and Cultural Society of Central Illinois is organizing a Diwali Pooja followed by fireworks Saturday evening as well.

    “After festivities calm down near midnight, you can see a dense fog of smoke settle down from the pollution, and this is where I’d like to say that the new generation of India has stepped up,” Shashikanth said. “Many children and youth now do not burst crackers but instead work for charity, help clean the surroundings, which is the need of the hour in India.”

    For Shah, some of his favorite memories include celebrating the Indian Festival of Lights with his family.

    “One of my fondest memories of Diwali is helping my mom put up Christmas lights up in our windows a full month early for Diwali. A lot of passerbys probably just thought we were super excited for Christmas,” Shah said.

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