When former Northeast graduate student Sagar Rajpal hosted the first Diwali celebration on the Boston University campus in 2017, he had no idea hundreds would fill the hallowed space and hall. Ell Hall Ballroom.
Continued annually under the leadership of Rajpal, the ‘Festival of Lights’ attracted over 2,000 celebrants last year. This year, he expects even more, as the celebration of the holidays continues to grow in popularity.
The 3-8 p.m. event on Monday, October 24 at the Curry Student Center in Boston includes a darshan and diya decoration on the second floor, a photo shoot on the first floor, and food in the Robinson Quad. There will also be a rangoli contest from 3 to 5 p.m. on the mezzanine, with voting and judging from 5 to 8 p.m.
Diwali will also be celebrated at Northeastern campuses in Toronto, Vancouver, San Jose, Seattle and Oakland. The San Jose and Seattle celebrations took place on Friday, October 21.
At Mills College at Northeastern in Oakland, Diwali will be celebrated from 5-7 p.m. on Monday, October 24, at the Solidarity Lounge, next to the Student Union. The event includes spiritual practices, Indian food, dancing to Bollywood music and card games.
At the Toronto campus, Diwali will be celebrated from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Friday, October 28. The event includes dance performances, music and traditional and cultural performances of Indian culture and food.
Rajpal, who is currently associate director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, said when he first hosted the celebration in Boston five years ago, “it was a dream project.” And now, he says, he’s thrilled to see thousands of people from diverse backgrounds joining in the celebration.
“Raised in a multi-faith and multi-cultural society in Mumbai, India, I have seen people of all faiths and traditions come together to celebrate Diwali. Everyone carries a light within them, and it is so important not only to nurture, but also to celebrate that light,” says Rajpal. “When I planned the first Desi Diwali at Northeastern University in 2017, the primary intention was to create a space for everyone, regardless of identity or background , come together, as a community, to celebrate the light within, and the light of the world.”
Monday’s Diwali celebration on the Boston campus will feature thousands of lights, food, worship, music, competitions and a photo booth. Unlike previous years, tickets are not required to attend. Also, to accommodate more people, the event has been extended to five hours.
“It’s a fair, like a walk-in event,” says Rajpal. “Also, it’s not labeled in any way. It is therefore open to the community at large to participate in the celebration and to have a glimpse of the different aspects of the celebration.
Because the event has become so popular, Rajpal said he is looking for a venue that can accommodate up to 5,000 people for future celebrations.
Diwali is a five-day festival known as the Festival of Lights and celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhist communities. Rajpal says it is both a religious and cultural festival, considered by many to be the most important of the year.
According to tradition, diyas – clay lamps with ghee/oil and a wick – are lit inside and outside homes. Rajpal says any light can be used today. The festival involves the worship of various gods and goddesses, including Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and the arts. Food is a big part of the holiday, as is rangoli, the colorful art form that originated in India.
“The Festival of Lights not only celebrates the lights outside, but also the light within you,” says Rajpal. “Community is the most important part of Diwali; be with your friends and family to celebrate the light inside and outside of you.
Alexander Levering Kern, Director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, and Megan Compaine, Associate Director of Academic Services and International Student Support at the World Service Office, were instrumental in organizing the celebrations for Diwali over the years, Rajpal said.
In addition to the Monday event in Boston, Sakshi Chougule, a Northeastern graduate student and president of the NU Sanskriti organization, is helping organize another Diwali celebration at Blackman Auditorium from 8-10:30 p.m. on Friday, October 28.
Chougule says the Friday celebration will be an entertainment event, with dancing, music and a fashion show.
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