Diwali: Hindu priest leads prayer ceremony to celebrate the New Year.
Last week marked a new year in the Hindu calendar, as people celebrated the five-day festival of Diwali. From Oct. 21-25, religious participants around the world hosted family gatherings, prayed, reflected on the year and partook in many religious traditions that observed the overarching theme of good triumphing evil. During this time, Saint Louis University’s Hindu Student Community (HSC) engaged students and faculty with religious festivities, including its annual Diwali Puja celebration.
“To me, Diwali is the time of reflection on the year that has passed,” said senior Shivani Thakkar. “The lights that are lit everywhere are a reminder that the New Year brings happiness and joy. Having Diwali Puja at SLU provides me with the opportunity to feel as if I am home with my family, praying for a prosperous New Year.”
Diwali is known as the “Festival of Lights” and translates to mean “rows of lighted lamps.” People light these lamps to help the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi, find her way into their homes. The lights reflect on the hope for a positive new year and happy successful lives.
“It involves lighting up not only your home with candles, creating a path for God, but also lighting up your life,” said senior Mumtu Lalla. “I think that the celebration of Diwali is also a time of introspection, opening up your heart to making yourself a better person.”
HSC’s Diwali Puja event was Oct. 26 and reflected over a month’s work of planning, spearheaded by sophomore Shradha Mehta. The group decorated the Sinquefield Stateroom for the event and made Indian food arrangements for the dinner that followed the ceremony. They also collaborated with the Hindu Temple of St. Louis in order to have a priest perform the event rituals.
The event began with prayers to Lord Ganesh, the remover of all obstacles, and Goddess Laxmi, the goddess of prosperity and wealth. This reflected gratuity for the previous year and asked for knowledge, luck and success in the New Year. Participants washed a symbolic image of the goddess with droplets of water to represent giving her a shower, and followed by offering her clothes and ornaments of flower petals and rice. Her name was then recited throughout the prayer that continued throughout the ceremony.
Diwali is not solely celebrated within Hinduism, but rather is an important holiday to Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists as well.
“Because Diwali is celebrated all over India and the world, there are many different types of traditions associated with Diwali,” said Lalla. “Overall, during Diwali everywhere, everything is illuminated with electric lights, candles and oil lamps. The celebration brings in the New Year, and thus people wear new clothes, eat lots of good Indian food and light firecrackers. HSC thus hosts Diwali Puja incorporating the general Hindu traditions.”
Over 150 people of different background and religious affiliations attended this year’s celebration, making it the most successful one yet. HSC plans to host another Diwali Puja event next year.
“HSC is open to students of all faiths attending all of its events,” said Lalla. “We love being able to communicate the traditions of Hinduism and hearing other perspectives of faith from students of other faiths.”