The desire to bring friends and family together, especially as the days grow shorter and colder, spans continents and cultures, so when Juniata College senior Nitya Chagti arrived on campus three years ago, she wanted to share a cherished celebration in her new home.
Well over 150 students, faculty and community members gathered in Ellis Ballroom at Juniata College to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, Wednesday night as they have for the past three years.
“It’s a celebration of prosperity or new comings. It’s sort of like a new year. It’s a day to bring light into your life — to clean the old and bring in the fresh, the new, the happy,” Chagti said. “It’s a celebration of the victory of good over evil.”
Guests were welcomed into the darkened ballroom, which was illuminated with colorful lights, and invited to enjoy a wide variety of Indian foods, color or learn Bollywood style dancing.
Chagti’s decision to share Diwali with Juniata College and the Huntingdon community was made during her first year on campus.
“There are hardly any Indians here and my freshman year, I realized I was quite alone and I didn’t want to be. My sophomore year, I decided to host it,” she said. “It was a huge success and I was completely baffled. To see so much support made me want to do it again and again.”
Last year, as Chagti was studying abroad, the celebration was overseen by others, but the tradition she established continued.
Diwali was observed Nov. 7 around the world. The date is dictated by the lunar calendar to coincide with the darkest new moon night of the Hindu lunisolar month Kartika.
“Hinduism is one of the most inclusive cultures around the world. Thirty-three percent of the world’s population is Hindu,” she said. “The story of Diwali goes back many, many thousands of years.”
The festival marks the return of Lord Ram to his kingdom, Ayodhya, after 14 years of exile.
“Ram is supposed to be king, but (his father) has decided that Ram should not be king because he would like the youngest son to be king. He decided to exile Ram,” said Chagti. “He ‘grounds’ him in the forest with his wife and his younger brother, because, why not? If you are grounded, you want to get your younger sibling in trouble too.”
While exiled, Ram’s wife, Sita, was kidnapped by the evil demon king, Ravana. In an epic battle of good versus evil, Ram defeats Ravana and he and Sita live happily ever after.
The good rulers decide to return to their kingdom, but their journey is made difficult by the darkness, so the people light millions of lamps to light his way back home.
“It is because of this that we light so many lamps and hang decorations, it’s to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and Ram having come back home, seeing the lights that directed him to where he was meant to be,” she said. “He was meant to be king. Tonight, we are all here to celebrate this victory.”