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ISSUE 121 VOL 8 PUBLISHED 11/16/2007

Diwali celebrated

By Ida Holdahl
Contributing Writer

Friday, November 16, 2007

A variety of St. Olaf students and faculty celebrated the Indian holiday of Diwali Saturday with food and festivities. The Pause was transformed into an intimate dining hall with students gathered together at long tables, lit by tea light candles and decorated with brightly colored paper.

The Asian Cultures Association, the Diversity Celebrations Committee, the Asian Studies Department, the Community Life and Diversity and the Multicultural Affairs and Community Outreach all collaborated to make the event possible.

The evening commenced with the traditional lighting of the lamps and light procession, led by President David Anderson '74 and Deanne Tollefson '10.

Tollefson briefly explained Diwali is a Hindu festival often referred to as "the festival of lights." Religion professor Anantanand Rambachan explained the meaning of Diwali more extensively, as well as his own personal connections with the holiday.

"Diwali is a time of worship," Rambachan said. He stated that Diwali "is a time of asking for blessings for the coming year."

Rambachan also lead a traditional Diwali song that reminded the attendees not to ask for blessings of silver and gold, but for things of greater good, such as relief from hunger and poverty.

After the brief time of worship, Rambachan explained that Diwali was perhaps the most widely celebrated and popular Hindu holiday, similar to the Christmas holiday.

Rambachan explained that because Diwali is so widely celebrated, the traditions associated with the holiday are diverse and numerous. "Many communities outside of India have developed their own traditions associated with the holiday," he said. It is a "global celebration, and an occasion [for all to celebrate] happiness and prosperity."

The festival ties to the homecoming of King Rama of Ayodya after a 14-year exile in the forest, after which the people welcome Rama back by lighting rows (avali) of lamps (deepa) and thus the name Deepawali or Diwali, which literally means "rows of clay lamps."

Rambachan remarked on this lighting of the clay lamps as a part of his childhood, saying that "the village was transformed" and "engulfed in a wave of joy" as the lamps were lit.

In conclusion, Rambachan said that one of the unique aspects of the holiday is that the festival is not uniquely Hindu, as a "day of religious freedom, a day when we see it highly connected with the freedom of others." And a remembrance that "goodness and joy is what life is all about," that in response to darkness in life we must offer light.

Rambachan's presentation was followed by the recitation of mantras, religious poems that are critically important to Hindu worship and are typically in the Sanskrit language. Ladeisha Bhide '09, Len Dunikoski '10 and Ananya Mukhopadhyay '09 all presented poems.

Following the mantra recitation, the tantalizing smells, which filled the room all night, were discovered by the students to be a combination of samosa (a potato dish), malai kofta (cheese balls), eggplant, chicken, gravy, rice, traditional Indian flat bread and rice pudding.

Needless to say, the traditional Indian meal catered by Northfield's own Kurry Kabab was a hit, especially with juniors Lauren Anderson '09 and Andrew Hickok '09. "I just couldn't get enough of it," Anderson said.

An Indian song prepared by Bhide and Cheryl Philip '10 followed the dinner. Later entertainments included Kajar Re, a song written by Gulzar, performed by a group of students, poems by Rabindranath Tagore recited by both Jonathan Eugster '09 and Maya Shah '09 and a dance, "Garba," performed by the Veslica dancers.

A combined effort of many students, the night was closed with a brief statement by Mukhopadhyay and Trisha Salkas '09, thanking all those who attended as well as the student organizations who made the night of traditional food, dazzling lights and festive decorations possible.

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