In celebration of the Indian New Year, the Bharatiya Prarthna Society collaborated with the Yale Chaplain’s Office to host the second-annual Diwali Pooja celebration Saturday evening.
The Hindu “festival of light” lit up the Davenport Common Room with dozens of candles and attracted nearly one hundred Hindu and non-Hindu Yale community members, event director Govind Rangrass ’08 said. Several students who attended Diwali Pooja said they were impressed by how the celebration had been upgraded from last fall’s event, but others said there was still room for improvement and they would like to see the event expanded next year.
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Rangrass said he founded the event at Yale last year after noticing that while Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year celebration, and Ramadan, a holy month of religious observances for Muslims, were accompanied by prominent celebrations on campus, there were not any special events held to observe Hindu holidays.
“A lot of other religions have their own private organizations put on these events, but the Hindu community had nothing,” he said. “Diwali is the perfect occasion for everyone to get together.”
Saturday’s event began with a brief mediation and proceeded with religious readings and mantras in Sanskrit, followed by devotional hymns. The event concluded with a full dinner served in the Davenport Art Gallery.
The festival of light originated from a myth describing how the citizens of Ayodhya, an ancient city in northern India, celebrated the return of their victorious leader Lord Rama by illuminating the entire kingdom with candles, thereby “banishing darkness,” Rangrass said.
Yale College Dean Peter Salovey, who attended the event, said he was impressed by how the event gave a diverse audience an opportunity to learn more about Hindu religious practices.
“I thought the event was beautifully organized, and it was offered to the Yale community in a spirit of inclusion and openness,” he said. “This kind of sharing of traditions is very much in the Yale spirit.”
Associate chaplain Shamshad Sheikh, who is responsible for the multifaith community on campus and who is herself a Muslim, provided managerial support and helped procure more than $700 of funding for the Hindu festival, which Sheikh said is “very much like Christmas” for students from India.
“We want to assure that all minority religions are able to celebrate their holy days on campus,” she said.
Students who attended the event said they were particularly impressed by how many non-Hindu students were in the audience.
Sameer Jain ’09 said the event marked a great improvement over last year’s version, which was held in a dorm room in Pierson College and was attended by 25 students.
“It was well-organized and I was really surprised by the number of people who turned out for it,” he said. “I didn’t know that there was enough demand to fill an entire common room.”
Sabrina Howell ’08, who attended the event with her father, said she appreciated how the event strived to be inclusive of non-Hindus. Howell said she would like to see the event expand with the inclusion of a dance performance, which is how Diwali is celebrated at some other universities.
But Neal Parikh ’08 said while he also enjoyed the festival, he thought it could be improved by cutting down the number of explanations of the mantras, which he said were “boring.” Parikh said the event as a whole would have been better served by a less formal tone.
“It was a very devout atmosphere and a more festive atmosphere would have been better,” he said. “There was a lot of silence and people clapping, but a Hindu celebration is usually more joyous.”
Rangrass said the Bharatiya Prarthna Society is planning to hold weekly prayer sessions where students can learn about Hinduism and other South Asian religions from cultural, religious and historical perspectives at some point in the future.