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October 26, 2000

Diwali Nights

Diwali, the Festival of Lights, is a nationally celebrated holiday in India, comparable to Christmas. It is also one of the most popular Hindu festivals, an occasion to celebrate the traditions of the community through story, drama, ritual and worship.

But Diwali has rarely, if ever, been celebrated on the Calvin campus. This year Calvin's Multicultural Student Advisory Board decided to change that and it sponsored a small-scale Diwali celebration.

After LOFT (Calvin's on-campus Sunday evening worship service), students gathered in the Chapel undercroft and then walked a road lined with luminaries to the Seminary pond. When they reached the island in the middle of the pond they found it illuminated with candles and Christmas lights.

Chemistry professor Kumar Sinniah then explained to the nearly 125 students gathered the significance of Diwali and how it's celebrated among Hindus. Although the origin of the festival is sketchy, the emphasis for some is an occasion for a fresh start and putting away the old, while for some the occasion is to celebrate the story of Rama and Sita found in the Ramayana, a book which describes the exploits of King Rama. Others believe that if they light up their homes and streets with arrays of candles, and clean their homes, then Lakshmi the goddess of wealth, fortune, and beauty will walk between them and bring good fortune.

And then Sinniah, a native of Sri-Lanka (predominantly Buddhist and Hindu), explained how Christians could observe the celebration in a much different way, interpreting the Hindu celebration of light's triumph over darkness as Christ's victory over Satan.

Calvin's celebration lacked many of the traditional aspects of Diwali such as games, fireworks, singing and dancing. But the tradition of a large meal was admirably preserved. After the ceremony at the Seminary pond, students returned to the Chapel undercroft for a delicious meal of rice pilaf, somosa (fried dumplings), chicken tikkamasala, naan (flatbread), chai tea, and other Indian dishes, all donated by India House restaurant.

Calvin vice president Shirley Hoogstra said the event accomplished its goals. "Calvin's Multicultural Student Advisory Board," she says, "is a group of outstanding students who want to provide experiences from other cultures for the wider campus so students understand themselves and the world better. They (the Board) knew that this festival had points of contrast and comparison for Christians. And they carefully planned the lights, the candles, the speaker and the food. Their careful planning made for a memorable and beautiful night." Calvin has 110 international students this year (not including 229 Canadian students), one of whom hails from India.

--story and pictures by media relations writer Abe Huyser-Honig (class of 2004)

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Contact Phil de Haan.