Elaina Rollins ’16, Staff Writer
Trinity College hosted its own Festival of Lights this past Friday, November 15 to celebrate the popular Indian festival of Diwali. Diwali is a five-day holiday celebrated primarily in India but is popular among citizens of all different faiths and nationalities. It is an official holiday in eleven countries, including Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, and it is celebrated by Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs. The festival began as a way to celebrate the last harvest of the year before winter; however, today Diwali marks the first day of the new financial year.
Different events take place on each of the five days of Diwali: Women clean their homes and shop for kitchen utensils on the first day. On the second day, families decorate their homes in preparation for the festival. The third day is the main day of Diwali when families eat large home-cooked feasts and pray to Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity. The fourth day is the first day of the new year, and the final day is when brothers visit their married sisters and eat another huge meal.
The International Students House, Caribbean Students Association, and Office of Residential Life organized the event at Trinity and received a very large turnout at the festival. Outside Mather, small clay candles and colorful sand arrangements lined the sidewalks leading toward the building’s main doors. These small lamps are called dipa and are meant to signify the triumph of good over evil. The sand drawings are known as rangoli decorations, a type of folk art used during Hindu festivals.
Inside Mather, the Washington Room was transformed into a perfect environment for celebrating the event. The walls were lined with strings of white lights and fifteen large tables with red tablecloths were arranged throughout the room. A Henna artist dressed in traditional Indian clothing offered free Henna at the back of the room and another table was set up with free bangles and bracelets. With the lights dim and music in the background, guests happily chatted and listened to a short presentation about the history of the festival.
After the presentation, delicious Indian food was served at buffets on either side of the room. Guests dined on white rice, naan, paneer korma (a vegetarian cottage cheese dish), and chicken tikka masala (roasted chicken in a spicy sauce). The rest of the evening was spent eating, talking, and dancing to Indian music.
Although there were no fireworks at the Trinity celebration of Diwali, the festival traditionally involves the lighting of firecrackers. Firecrackers are meant to bring prosperity and drive out evil spirits. Families gather to light bonfires and share sweets to worship Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Doors and windows are also kept open in order to let her prosperity flow into homes, and all Diwali celebrants wear new clothes.
Diwali is growing more significant in the United States as the Indian population increases each year. The White House first celebrated the festival in 2003 and gave official status to Diwali in 2007 by former president George W. Bush. The first president to ever personally attend Diwali at the White House is President Barack Obama, who on the night of his first visit to India released a statement offering good wishes to the celebrants of Diwali.
Just like in India, Diwali is celebrated in different parts of the United States. Over 100,000 people attended a Diwali festival at the Cowboys Stadium in 2009. That same year, San Antonio became the first American city to sponsor an official Diwali celebration.
Trinity’s celebration of the festival brought together many different types of people – some students had never heard of Diwali, while others had celebrated it themselves while living abroad before coming to the College. The festival was a great way to come together before Thanksgiving break and be thankful for prosperity.