Hindus light up chapel for Diwali week
This year’s celebration, held for the first time in the University Chapel, was the brainchild of Coordinator for Hindu Life Vineet Chander, selected last summer to fill the newly created position, and of members of the Princeton Hindu Satsangam (PHS), a student group focused on promoting awareness of Hinduism on campus.
Sponsored by the Office of Religious Life and the Hindu Life Program, the event included dance performances, singing, speeches, a lamp-lighting ritual and readings from sacred texts. Typically held over five days, Diwali is a holiday celebrating the triumph of good over evil. The festival is observed by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs around the world. The University’s celebration emphasized the Hindu story of Lord Ram’s homecoming with his wife Sita after triumphing over the demon king Ravan.
Chander said in an interview that he saw the chapel as a perfect location in which to bring Diwali to the University this year.
“My first time in this place … [I knew] it was a sacred place,” Chander said. By holding the celebration of Diwali in the chapel, Chander said he hoped to welcome people of all religions and backgrounds to partake in the festivities.
“Interfaith happens when people of different faiths interact,” Chander said, noting that “[once we] get past cultural roadblocks and go to a deeper level … [we’re] not so different.”
In his speech during the celebration, Chander credited the PHS with helping make the event a success, noting that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the turnout.
Loheetha Ragupathi ’09, the co-president of PHS, said the group has held celebrations of Diwali in the past, but they were mainly geared toward Hindu students.
Ragupathi said that the group wanted to open it up to the wider community because Diwali has an “essential message” that “everyone could share.”
Chander’s sermon was addressed to people of all religions. He noted that the Diwali message of good triumphing over evil is a part of everyday life, citing violence and war as examples.
“It’s not difficult to find the Ravan of our world,” Chander said, adding that he believes people could “weed him from [their] hearts.”
Chander encouraged the audience to “destroy the darkness … in our hearts … with a string of light: knowledge.”
“But we cannot do it on our own,” he said, adding that an important part of Diwali and sharing the celebration with the community “is that we’re not alone.”
Both Ragupathi and Shobana Venkat ’10, vice-president of PHS, attributed the openness of this year’s event to Chander’s work.
“[Planning the event] was manageable because Vineet made contacts,” Venkat said, adding that in past years they had to enlist student groups in the program and therefore had to work around everyone else’s schedule.
This year, Chander invited dancers from the Kalashri School of Dance in Orange, N.J., and the band As Kindred Spirits from Washington, D.C. Their songs and dances filled the chancel.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Ganga Bey ’09 said of the University’s Diwali celebration. Bey said she had participated in past Diwali celebrations, noting that there are different ways of celebrating Diwali.
Bey said she thought the celebration was “beautiful” and that Chander did a “wonderful job explaining [the story of Diwali].”
Mengsi Chen ’11 said she found the dance “amazing” and felt a “sort of ambience” from the singers.
Chander highlighted the importance of dance and music to the celebration.
During Diwali, “every word is a song, and every step is a dance,” he said.