By SYDNEY RIEMER
For The News-Letter
More than 2,000 people attended the Hindu Students Council’s (HSC) annual celebration of Diwali, the festival of lights, in the gymnasium of the Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center on Saturday.
Diwali is celebrated all around the world by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists. According to cards that were on all of the tables at the event, “Diwali honors the triumph of light over darkness, marking the start of the New Year.”
“The purpose [of the event] is to celebrate Diwali,” sophomore Harrine Ramesh, who is secretary of the HSC, said. “And it’s not only for the Indian students who are nostalgic, it’s for the whole community to learn about Indian culture and just embrace it whether it’s through food, dancing or anything else.”
In keeping with Hindu practices, attendees were asked to remove their shoes before entering the gym.
“[It’s] a Hindu tradition that when you go into a house or a temple. And this [the gym] is kind of emulating a temple because we have some idols in the center, so you take off your shoes to show respect,” junior Sumukh Bharadwaj, an HSC board member, said.
The main event of the evening was a Hindu ritual of worship, aarti. Attendees gathered around a table upon which statues of the Hindu gods were mounted.
In addition to prayer, the event also featured free food, including samosas, gulab jamun, a traditional South Asian dessert and daal, a lentil dish.
Another way Indian culture was fused into the event was giving attendees the opportunity to have a sari, a South Asian female garment, and a pagh, or turban, tied on for them.
“The purpose of the sari-tying event was to have fun while simultaneously spreading Indian culture,” sophomore Sharmini Premananthan, who volunteered to tie saris, said.
Later in the night attendees gathered to watch performances by South Asian dance groups JHU Shakti, Blue Jay Bhangra, Zinda and JOSH.
In addition to celebrating South Asian and Hindu culture, the event also had a charitable aspect.
The Lotus Life Foundation, an organization that donates medical supplies to impoverished children in India, where childhood illnesses and infectious diseases are common, asked attendees for donations at the entrance to the gym to support their efforts.
The gym was packed with people only an hour after the event began.
“I’m really happy about how it turned out,” senior Anuja Shah, co-president of the HSC, said. “This has been going on for over 10 years, probably 15 at Hopkins, and every year it has just been getting bigger and bigger. I think this is the most people I’ve seen at the beginning of the event. I’m glad there’s such a great turnout.”
Shah explained that HSC likes to make the event family-oriented.
“The actual holiday is on November 11th this year. It’s on the lunar calendar, so it changes. But we like keeping it during Parents’ Weekend because a lot of parents really like this event,” Shah said.
Sophomore Tara Blair brought her family to the celebration.
“I thought it would be a fun event for my family because in high school a lot of my close friends were Indian so I got to experience their culture and wanted the same for my family,” Blair said.
Blair’s mother, Teresa Blair, had a positive experience at the event.
“My family and I enjoyed seeing many of the students and even some parents dressed in their festive traditional outfits. I thought it would be nice for my high school daughter to see the traditional Indian dance, as she studies dance, but unfortunately we didn’t get to stay that late,” she said.
Blair praised the event organizers, citing the free food.
“I definitely plan on attending it again next year if they have the Diwali event, and I will plan on staying for the dance. It was nice that it was very informal and you could stay as long or as little as you wanted,” she said. “I should’ve realized the event would have a great turnout with students since there was free food, so it was so great to see so many students at one event.”
Though the event is planned over Parents’ Weekend, and several students whose parents did not visit attended and enjoyed the event.
“Diwali is something I celebrate every year with my family, it’s like equivalent to Christmas, and you buy new clothes and such,” sophomore Sanjana Chandrasekar said. “It’s really hard to keep up with that tradition here at Hopkins, so it was nice to be able to celebrate the festival with my peers.”
Sophomore Gita Lakshminarayanan agreed with Chandrasekar’s sentiments.
“I like connecting with my culture and celebrating part of my heritage,” she said.
Other students just wanted to see the performances, eat free food and find out what the event was all about. Freshman Samavia Khan attended the event knowing little about Diwali.
“I was interested in experiencing a different aspect of South Asian culture,” Khan said. “I wanted to learn more about the holiday, and it was something new and exciting to do on campus. I think the performances were great because I was able to see a different side of my friends and classmates. Everyone is so talented and it was obvious that a lot of hard work went into those performances.”
The event ended with the lighting of sparklers outside of the recreation center.