Diwali is that one time of the year, when every Indian, no matter where in the world, is in a festive mood. It’s not just about lights and diverse Indian cuisine, it’s about sharing the sense of belonging, family values, traditions, rituals and celebrations. Diwali has the charm that transforms the vibes of Indian cities. They are flushed with lights and candles. According to the Ramayana, Diwali is celebrated to mark the victory of Lord Rama over evil king Ravana who had abducted the goddess Sita, wife of Rama. On his way back, it was a dark, moonless night, and so, in order to light his path, the people of his kingdom lit diyas causing the city to light up in divine splendor.
Here Illinois, we have a small Indian community that comprises of Indian students, professors and their family members. Diwali is one festival that highlights their presence in Urbana Champaign as all these people gather together and plunge into celebrations. The biggest of all these events is held by Indian Graduate Students Association in the main quad.
The graduate students organize “Diwali on the Quad” every year during the time Diwali is celebrated in India. This year, they celebrated on October 29th. It is one of the biggest events celebrated in Urbana-Champaign by the Indian community. The event begins with people gathering together and illuminating the quad with candles called “diya” in Hindi. In other regional languages of India, you may also hear these lamps referred to as deep, deepak, jyoti, etc. The walkways in the quad are lined with candles on either side, the rows of lights illuminating the ground for all who walk by. The Foellinger Auditorium, with its dome roof decorated in yellow light bulbs, adds to the beautiful sight of quad. The combined of effect of the candles and yellow lights is simply awe-inspiring. Delicious Indian food with great flavors and a photo booth with hanging lights attract a crowd dressed up in their traditional Indian attire, all trying to re-create the aura of Diwali as experienced back in India.
Apart from IGSA, there are other Registered Students’ Organizations that keep alive the tradition of Diwali on campus with their celebrations and events. The Indian Students Association is an organization that revives Indian culture by offering year round events on Indian festivals. One big highlight of theirs is a Diwali celebration that happened on October 22 this year. They not only celebrate it with food, lights and fire-crackers, but also host a “Garba, Raas and Bhangra” dance event on November 3, encouraging students to put on their glittering traditional attire and dancing shoes.
For Sikhs, Diwali celebrations also holds immense importance as it marks the release of sixth Sikh Guru, Guru Hargobind Singh Ji and 52 other princes with him from the prison in 1619. The Sikh Student Organization in UIUC is a body of Sikh students that puts forth a delightful event for Diwali celebration at the Asian American Cultural Center every year. Along with food and refreshments, the highlight of the event is ‘Bhangra’ dance and do-it-yourself Diwali crafts that encourage the folks attending to indulge in activities and make the most of the celebrations.
It is delightful to see not only Indian students, but also Americans, Chinese, Koreans, Pakistanis and students from all over the world participate in Diwali celebrations. They participate in candle lighting and relish the Indian food and sweets. That Diwali is being recognized and cherished by people all over the world is what makes it even more special here on campus.
While the Diwali celebration on campus is different from what it is back in India, developing close-knit bonds with one another here fulfills the longing for family and community felt by many of the Indian students at Illinois. When we light the campus and our apartments with those beautiful flickering candles, we can believe that the light within us protects us from the spiritual darkness.
Indian students come to Illinois from different regions of India. India being so diverse, they bring with them a taste of their own unique culture, rituals, food, clothing and celebrations. The Diwali celebration on campus represents all the diversities of India, offering an amazing opportunity to learn about varying practices and celebrations within the country. Diwali has been celebrated here for a long time and has established itself as a significant event on campus. The cultural intermingling and acceptance softens the barriers between people from different corners of the world and allows them to enrich their experiences.
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