Celebrating Diwali: the festival of lights

Story by: Maddie Lajewski

Photos by: Rebecca Particka

Colorful saris and kurtas, performances, and a large feast are the three core things that make a traditional Diwali celebration. On Saturday, Nov. 12, students, faculty, family and friends gathered in Finch Fieldhouse for Diwali night, an event coordinated by the International Student Organization at Central Michigan University.

“Diwali, the largest and most significant festival of the year in India, is a celebration of light over darkness, good over evil, and the human capacity to persevere,” international graduate student Deepthi Mamillapalli said. “Diwali is the national celebration of India. It is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, and Buddhists, and hence has no single origin myth. However, even though each religion has its own historical explanation for the festival, they all ultimately depict the triumph of virtue over evil.”

In the corner of the stage was a table with unlit diyas (oil lamps) and a painting of Lakshmi, the goddess who is primarily worshiped during Diwali.

Diwali is associated with Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth and good fortune. An image of Lakshmi and two diyas, or oil lamps, were on dispaly at Central Michigan Univeristy’s Indian Student Association’s Diwali Night in Finch Field House in Mount Pleasant Mich. on Nov 12, 2022.

President Bob Davies, along with Professor James Melton, Professor Vishal, Professor Kyle Nothstine and others all participated in lighting the first diyas that began the celebration.

“Overcoming evil is also about prosperity and joy, and creating wealth and not just pausing in the sense of the materialistic aspects; but the wealth of the soul, wealth of relationships and friendships,” Davies said.

Honored guest at Central Michigan Univeristy’s Indian Student Association’s Diwali Night light the diyas in Finch Field House in Mount Pleasant Mich. on Nov 12, 2022.

Davies gave a speech about how Diwali is an opportunity for people of different backgrounds to learn about different cultures and come together to celebrate good in the world.

“It is also about thinking about how we can grow and move forward together in a very strong sense of relationships, it’s about communities coming together,” Davies said. “It is about diversity, equity and inclusion in the truest and richest forms. That is why, to me, Diwali, the festival of light, bringing together all of our communities is such an important part and especially to have it happen here. In Finch Fieldhouse, where it’s known to be a gathering place for people of different backgrounds, different thoughts and ideas to come together and not see our differences, but to see our similarities and how we can overcome darkness. Where knowledge and prosperity look forward.”

A variety of different faculty, family and friends attended the event for different reasons. Dine and Connect residential supervisor Nichole Brickner attended the event to support all of her international student employees.

“My students,” Brickner said. “They begged me last year and I didn’t get to go, so this year I actually got the chance to come. I was excited.”

A key part of the celebration are the many different performances, including dancing and singing. In one of the dance performances, traditional dancer Sangeetha Madam and her team taught attendees hand movements and their meanings. That was a highlight for many attendees at the event.

“Their hand movements,” Brickner said. “How they do that is beyond me. My hands do not move that way, but I’m hoping I can learn.”

Sangeetha Madam and her students demonstrate how to do finger movements at Central Michigan Univeristy’s Indian Student Association’s Diwali Night light the diyas in Finch Field House in Mount Pleasant Mich. on Nov 12, 2022. Finger movements are unique to India’s dance style. Each movement represents a Sanskrit symbol.

Along with Diwali being a major holiday, many enjoy spending quality time with their family, something many international students miss during this time of year while studying in America. 

“As many of our Indian students are away from their families while attending school, I am aware that the ability to celebrate was vital to them,” Mamillapalli. “Many of us are unable to be with our families during this critical time of year, so it meant so much to be able to celebrate here as a family. We are thankful for the chance to share our culture and traditions with the CMU students and faculty.”