On Nov. 4, students celebrated Diwali, the festival of lights. Cornell’s Hindu Student Council organized celebrations, holding in-person gatherings in Anabel Taylor Hall for the first time in over a year.
Throughout the month of November, organizations including Cornell’s Hindu Student Council are holding religious and cultural gatherings for the celebration of the triumph of light over darkness.
Diwali is one of the major festivals celebrated in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism and Newar Buddhism. The name is derived from the Sanskrit term dipavali, meaning “row of lights.” It lasts for five days, typically falling in late October or November.
HSC organized two prayer gatherings, known as “poojas,” in the Edwards Room of Anabel Taylor Hall that had a turnout of around 40 to 50 among both undergraduate and graduate students.
“It was nice to see a whole community in one room even if it was just for almost an hour,” said Shivani Singh ’24, a member of HSC’s executive board. For Singh, who studied remotely last year, it was her first time celebrating Diwali away from home.
Gayatri Sriram ’22, another member of HSC’s executive board, enjoyed having the chance to meditate in a shared community setting.
“I think prayer is something that you don’t get the same effect for if you’re just doing it in your room over Zoom. [Doing so in community] can be very rewarding for someone’s mental health,” Sriram said.
Last year, HSC held Diwali gatherings virtually on Zoom. Because people’s voices were not synchronized, the prayer songs and chants were done by one person and others watched from their rooms.
Both Singh and Sriram said that celebrating what is normally a family-oriented holiday with the Cornell community made this year unique for them.
Students also held informal gatherings with friends and family. On Thursday, Sriram and her friends dressed up in traditional South-Asian attire and had dinner for Diwali together. Singh’s family called her that evening when they were celebrating at home to bring the festivities to her.
Some dining halls on West and North campus also served Indian food on Thursday evening to celebrate the festival, including Indian specialities like samosas, palak paneer and roti.
In addition to attending the pooja hosted by HSC, Kiran Ganga ’24 watched a virtual pooja that her parents hosted, while enjoying Indian sweets and snacks from her dorm room. While she missed celebrating with family and friends at home, lighting fireworks and having homemade food, she appreciated the opportunities Cornell’s South Asian student organizations provided.
“I think celebrating festivals like Deepavali is one way I’ve connected with my South Indian identity despite living in America. I wanted to continue to have that same spirit on campus,” Ganga said.
On Nov. 20, Cornell’s Hindu Student Council will host a larger event aimed for around 200 people, Diwali Dhamaka. It will be held in Duffield Atrium from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., and catered food from New Delhi Diamonds in Ithaca Commons will be available. Students who purchase tickets for $5 to attend can also receive henna tattoos, create rangoli art and paint diyas, small clay lamps.
HSC has started preparing for the event since the beginning of the semester. “Our biggest goal is to get the word out there about it, especially because it’s been two years since our last Diwali Dhamaka,” Sriram said. As a senior who has experienced the event in-person before the pandemic, she hopes that the logistics and aesthetics next week will deliver.
HSC members plan to spend the entirety of Saturday decorating Duffield, placing cloths and candles on the tables, setting up stations and music, managing the catering, and putting lights all around the atrium.
“The purpose is to bring together the community and show people what Diwali is, to spread the vibrant culture and ideas of light over darkness,” Singh said.
Jyothsna Bolleddula ’24 contributed reporting.