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Students and faculty presented two events celebrating the ancient Hindu festival of Deepawali last Friday. Both were free and open to the public.

A brown bag presentation on “Deepawali: The History, Customs, and Worship Rituals” was held noon-1 p.m. at Interfaith Chapel, Hogg Hall. The event explored Deepawali (also called Diwali) through discussion and performance of worshipping rituals.

Speakers included Inku Subedi ’05, a double major in psychology and anthropology & sociology from Kathmandu, Nepal; Robin Rinehart, associate professor of religion; Prashant Poddar ’04, an electrical and computer engineering major from Ranchi, India; Dhiraj Sharma ’04, an economics and business major from Kathmandu, Nepal; Farhan Ahmed ’05, a computer science major from Utter Pradesh, India; and Praveen Chaudhry, visiting instructor of government and law.

Subedi introduced the speakers and opened with a short “puja” worshipping ritual. “[Diwali] takes on a feature of cultural symbolism, rather than religious fundamentals…prosperity is for everyone,” she explained.

Rinehart, who has conducted extensive research in India, spoke on the background of Diwali and interpretations of celebration in different regions of the country.

Poddar talked about “Diwali Festivities I Celebrate and What They Mean to Me.”

Sharma described a few Diwali rituals unique to Nepal. “Myth, culture, history, religion — all these are so bound up together, you can’t study these separately,’’ he said. “It has to be in your fibers to really understand.”

As a Muslim, Ahmed sees Diwali as more cultural than religious in his life, he said.

Chaudhry spoke on the “Rise of Hindu Nationalism and its Challenge to the Nehrus’ Dream of a Secular State.” He noted, “Historically, India was always an ideal, and that ideal included everything.”

An exposition of the ceremony was held on the Quad 5-8 p.m. that evening, featuring worshipping rituals, Indian sweets and snacks, Indian folk dance, and sparklers and oil lamps.

Event sponsors were Asian Cultural Association, Student Government, Lafayette Activities Forum, and the Chaplain’s Office.

Deepawali is a Sanskrit word that means “rows of lights,” in reference to the custom of lamp lighting during the festival. In some parts of India and other countries, it is shortened to “Diwali.” It comes in late October or early November on the darkest night of the year. The holiday symbolizes the victory of honesty and the lifting of spiritual darkness. In Hinduism, darkness is compared to ignorance and the customary lighting of lamps signifies losing ignorance and gaining knowledge.

The holiday is also a celebration of the triumph of good over evil, held in memory of mythological stories of various divine incarnations conquering evil demons. The festival is celebrated throughout India as well as Nepal, Sri Lanka, Japan, and other countries of the region, regardless of religious affiliation. Celebrations also occur as far away as South America.

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