Diwali festival illuminates chapel

University of La Verne Librarian Vinyana Tripuraneni presents a dedication of flowers while Bharathwaj Nandakumar offers a ceremonial prayer at the Diwali celebration. Nandakumar, priest and director of Hindu Student Life at USC, led the ceremony Oct. 23. The celebration was organized by Common Ground and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. / photo by Sonora Hernandez
University of La Verne Librarian Vinaya Tripuraneni presents a dedication of flowers while Bharathwaj Nandakumar offers a ceremonial prayer at the Diwali celebration. Nandakumar, priest and director of Hindu Student Life at USC, led the ceremony Oct. 23. The celebration was organized by Common Ground and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. / photo by Sonora Hernandez

Gabriella Chikhani
Staff Writer

Students, faculty and community members gathered to celebrate day one of the five-day festival Diwali, or “festival of lights,” last Thursday in the Interfaith Chapel.

Diwali is the Hindu, Jain and Sikh festival of lights held in the fall and signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.

Diwali is the biggest and most important holiday in India and is celebrated by all regardless of faith.

Tahil Sharma, senior Spanish major and international studies minor, organized the event with Common Ground and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

Sharma invited Bharathwaj Nandakumar, director of student life at USC, to lead the service.

There was absolute silence as Nandakumar rang bells and lit candles, indicating that the ceremony was starting.

He had everyone say “aum” three times and recite the prayers with him.

“(Aum) is this idea that this resonating sound was there before our reality existed and when the ‘aum’ completed that’s what created the boom in the big bang theory,” Sharma said. “Aum represents God in essence of a sound and something that we can’t see.”

The event was open to all and attracted a variety of cultures and people of differing ethnic backgrounds.

“I felt very self-conscious reciting the prayers because I didn’t know the language but I closed my eyes and tried my best to reenact it,” said Sebastian Alonzo, senior sociology major. “When I didn’t know what to say I just stayed quiet so I wouldn’t be disrespectful.”

Inside the Chapel there was a table filed with candles, religious pictures, fruit and sweets.

The podium next to the table had boxes of red and pink flowers which Nandakumar used during prayers.

Nandakumar lead the service in traditional garments and wore a red bindi.

Bindis are small dots made out of kum-kum, a red powder made of turmeric or saffron, that are placed between the eyebrows.

“We put the dot in between the eyebrows because it’s considered to be one of the chakras acting as a third eye of consciousness,” Nandakumar said.

Diwali celebrators came up one by one to light candles and spread the flowers around the altar, passing on their enlightenment to one another.

“I like the idea of human connectivity, that we share and learn from each other’s experiences,” Alonzo said.

Diamond shaped sweets were placed on the altar as offerings and then shared among everyone in the Chapel.

The purpose of putting the cashew treats on the table was to show humbleness and gratitude for what he or she has in life.

“As much as we’re in this material world, whatever we have we tend to offer to the divine first before we consume it or let others use it,” Sharma said.

The rituals and prayers for Diwali change each night according to which God they are praying to.

“There are a lot of hidden meanings in things because the multiplicity of what it represents shows how complex God is but at the same time how simple God is,” Sharma said.

Alonzo said the ceremony celebrated everyone’s differences no matter who or what they are and that it was beautiful.

Sharma met Nandakumar through the USC School of Civic Center where they both work as rising spiritual leaders.

Gabriella Chikhani can be reached at gabriella.chikhani@laverne.edu.

Correction
In the original version of the story “Diwali festival illuminates chapel” (Oct. 31), the name of Bharathwaj Nandamukar was misspelled. The Campus Times regrets the error.

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