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Students gather for Divali

Rohan Anand | Monday, November 19, 2007

The India Association of Notre Dame sponsored a campus-wide celebration of the Hindu festival known as Divali Sunday night in LaFortune Ballroom.

Physics professor Umesh Garg led a cultural presentation and prayer to inform more than 100 people about the significance of this festival.

Divali is traditionally celebrated near the end of October or beginning of November and commemorates the triumph of good over evil.

“It’s like a combination of Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, and Fourth of July all rolled up into one for the Indian people,” Garg said. “Indian families like to celebrate it once monsoon season finishes, and do things like clean up the house, fill it with sweets and potpourri, and decorate poojas [worship rooms for Indian deities] and celebrate with music, dancing and friends.”

The story of Divali began 15 days after the mythological figure Rama, son of the King of Ayodhya Raja Dasharatha, was sent into exile to defeat Ravana, the representation of evil and temptation in Sri Lanka. Rama was then joined by his wife, Sita, and his close brother, Lakshman.

Rama’s army built a bridge between Sri Lanka and the mainland, and after defeating all of Ravana’s forces, the battle finally came down to single combat between Ravana and Rama.

Using a special weapon that he had received from the saint Agastya, Rama shot Ravana in the belly and killed him, symbolizing the “Dusshera” or “defeat.”

However, 14 years had passed after the Dusshera before the people in Ayodha began to worry that Rama, Sita and Lakshman would not find their way back, so it became crucial to guide the heroes’ home by lighting up the city with fireworks and lamps. Divali, therefore, celebrates the journey home thanks to the guiding lights.

“Rama represents the ideal human being – as a son, a king, a warrior, and a husband,” Garg said. “It’s something we celebrate with gusto, but we also like to clean our houses, hold pooja ceremonies, and cook food because we believe we are formally inviting Lakhshman and Sita into our warm homes through these rituals.”

Divali also represents the new fiscal year for Indian businesses.

In the past, the India Association used to celebrate Divali on a smaller scale at Garg’s house, but this year it decided to have a larger event open to more students.

“We were pleased to see that there are a lot of non-Indian students here celebrating Divali with us and wanted to be part of the event,” said IAND co-president Chandan Mozumder, a third-year graduate student.

After Garg’s presentation, students were invited to worship and pray in a pooja that IAND had set up in the ballroom. Afterwards there was a catered dinner followed by music and dancing – known as dandia raas – or stick dancing in line formations.

“Of course, no Indian festival celebration is complete without music and dancing,” said senior Divya Mahadevia, who helped coordinate the evening. “So we figured that teaching people the relatively easy-to-learn movements of dandia raas would be easier than Bollywood karaoke – since that wouldn’t work out so well with people who aren’t Indian.”