Diwali is the festival of lights and the celebration lasts for five days. BYU-Hawaii students celebrated the festival on Nov. 3 at the Aloha Center Ballroom. During this time of year, diyas, commonly known as the oil lamps used in India, are lit. Friends and families gather together to have feasts and have fun lighting up firecrackers, according to BBC.
President of the Indian chapter Shan Sundaram, a freshman from India studying marketing, said Diwali is always something special for him and his family. “For our family… it’s a big event for us. It’s just something [that means] bad things are gone and good things are going to come into our life.”
Students and families were able to spend time with one another during the Diwali festival on campus. The name Diwali comes from the Sanskrit word Deepavali, which means “rows of lighted lamps.” The festival was filled with dancing, food, and even Rangoli making. Many people were dressed up in traditional clothing such as saris and sherwanis for the celebration.
Elysse Hunt, a junior from Arizona studying intercultural peacebuilding, shared the importance of celebrating events like this in school. “I think a lot of times this world is filled with so much darkness; we forget to look at the light.
“So, we have a celebration that focuses on that light and that good friendships and community that we can share, then it allows us to have that moment of that separation from the darkness where we’re able to just focus on the light and have fun and enjoy the company that we can offer one another.”
Sharon Yeap, a sophomore from Malaysia studying biochemistry, explained that last year, the Malaysia and Singapore chapter celebrated Diwali, but there were only a few participants. For that reason they wanted to collaborate this year with the Indian and Fijian chapters to hold the festival.
How is Diwali celebrated?
Ammon Tamilarason, a freshman from Malaysia studying hospitality and tourism management, said that Diwali brings his family and relatives together despite being spread-out all over Malaysia and India.
“In my family, everyone will gather together at one of the relatives’ house, and we’ll live there for a few days, cook a lot of food and always play loud music and dance at night to Bollywood or Southern Indian songs. We dance a lot and watch movies together, and spend a lot of money, especially on clothes.”
Savaira Veikoso, a freshman from Fiji studying human resources, shared that she and her friends would celebrate Diwali with a lot of fireworks. “Our neighbors, who are Indians, have sweets and they invite us over to eat. Sometimes we gather in groups of friends, and we go around [collecting sweets].
“It’s like trick or treating so we just go and ask, ‘Aunty, Uncle, can we have some sweets?’ And they would give us the Indian sweets. So, we usually celebrate it with our Indian friends.”
Damon Kumar, a senior from Fiji studying HTM, said that even though he’s a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he still celebrated Diwali as a celebration of good over evil. “We dress up in our Indian attire, make sweets, and we invite friends to come over. We play with firecrackers, and we light the house with candles, lights, and Diya, so it’s fun back home.”
Glenna Prakash, a freshman from Fiji studying HTM, said the fireworks lit up in the sky were on of her favorite things during Diwali. “I find it very symbolic because of the way, it just kind of brightens up the sky in the darkness, that’s how sometimes happiness is. It makes me happy so that’s like the best part of it and you get to play with your family and friends.”
Variety of food and Rangoli
The presidencies of each chapter decided to prepare different kinds of food for the event. The Malaysian chapter prepared curry while the Fijian chapter prepared rice and Chapati, and the Indian chapter prepared a dessert called Gulab Jamun.
Yeap recalled how people came up to her to ask who made the food and how they appreciated it because it made them feel like they were back home.
“[The attendees] were like, ‘Oh my goodness. This curry is authentic. This is what we ate in India. You made me happy. You made my day,’ and this is what I really want to see, just seeing people being happy and being able to practice their culture here and just feel a bit at home.”
The festival also featured colored powder or sand art called Rangoli, according to express.co.uk, which allowed everyone to divide into groups and participate. The theme for the Rangoli activity was to make something that represented light. Some of the artworks the groups made featured Diya with the words ‘Happy Diwali’ over it, and a representation of Green Lantern’s icon and a lighthouse.
Sundaram said through events like these, he wants to let others know more about the traditional Indian culture. “I see that people [now] know what the sand art, Rangoli, is or how the traditional culture is, how we dress, what is the food we provide to people and whoever attended and stayed till the end, there was an impact. There were a few people who came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for inviting me to this activity.’”
Despite not knowing anything about the event, Amber Stevenson, a junior from Utah, shared how she was excited to come because of her anthropology major. “I love studying different cultures, so I thought this would be such a good experience, and it really was.”
Stevenson shared that she was able to learn more about the festival and Indian culture and said that being dressed in the traditional Indian attire helped her a lot during the event.
Veikosa said that celebrating events like these here in school reminded them that despite being in a foreign country, they could still do activities to make them feel at home. “I didn’t know that the Malaysians celebrated Diwali as well and so I think it’s a good way for us to find things in common.
“I like how it brings us together and I think that’s one of the best things in this university… it makes us united in things we don’t know we were united in.”
Sundaram added, “It feels like our home. Even though we’re in a different country, the school is helping us to feel like one ohana and to share our culture, what we are and who we are.”