October 28, 2016
MEMORANDUM TO THE MARIST COLLEGE COMMUNITY
FROM: DAVID YELLEN
Sunday, October 30 marks the start of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, one of the biggest and most important holidays in South Asia. Running through Thursday, November 3, Diwali is an occasion for all to celebrate good over evil (or light over dark). The festival gets its name from the row of clay lamps that celebrants light outside their homes to symbolize the victory of light over darkness. To celebrate Diwali, people typically dress up in their finest clothing, light lamps and candles inside and outside their homes, and participate in family prayers, typically to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. Prayers are followed by fireworks, a family feast, and an exchange of gifts.
The Marist community includes a number of faculty, staff, and students who celebrate Diwali, including more than 150 graduate and undergraduate students from India. On Friday, October 28, the College will host "Lights of India," a special celebration of India's music, dance, and fashion from 5-7:30 p.m. in the Cabaret. Refreshments will be served. Special thanks to the Center for Multicultural Affairs, the Office of Academic Technology, and our Indian graduate students for organizing this cultural celebration. They have worked very hard to plan a festival the whole college community can enjoy, and I hope you will join us this Friday.
To the members of the Marist community who celebrate, Happy Diwali!
On Wednesday, I sent a memo to the Marist community regarding the celebration of Diwali and Marist's observance of it tonight from 5-7:30 p.m. in the Cabaret. Subsequently, I received an extremely thoughtful email from a Marist student who noted that Diwali is a significant holiday not only for the Hindu community, but also for Sikhs. I wanted to share with you part of his message to me because it broadened my understanding both of Diwali and of the cultures represented in the Marist community. I hope it will do the same for you.
The student wrote me the following (edited for length and clarity):
Sikhism is the fifth largest religion in the world, and there are 500,000 Sikhs in America. Sikh identity is distinguished by the unique practice of wearing turbans. Diwali has a completely different significance in the Sikh religion, and it is more than mythological. Sikhs don't pray to Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of wealth. The story of Diwali for the Sikhs is a story of the Sikh struggle for freedom. From the time of Guru Nanak (1469 – 1539), the founder of Sikhism, ancient mythological festivals like Holi and Diwali, or worship rituals like Aarti, began to take on a new significance for the Guru’s students, the Sikhs. The Guru used these festivals and special days, e.g., first day of each lunar month, as symbols for his teaching themes. Thus the Sikhs slowly moved away from superstitious ritualism and toward an enlightened ideology based on reason and belief in One Creator. The ideology of Guru Nanak gave new significance to ancient festivals like Diwali. "Bandi Chor Diwas" is celebrated on the same day as Diwali, and it affords Sikhs the opportunity to celebrate alongside Hindus and Jains. It is a reminder to look beyond oneself, and to use the privilege that has been conferred by the Creator to aid those who are less fortunate. It requires us to think about our actions beyond our own interests and instead be an agent of positive affect for the global community. As the ethnic and religious landscape continues to evolve on campus, each of us has the responsibility to learn about one another’s unique traditions. Doing so will help us better appreciate each other and therefore help us create more vibrant and accepting communities. I would like to request you to please extend the wishes to Sikhs and Jains and everybody who celebrates Diwali, as it is not just a Hindu festival, and not the entire community of more than 150 graduate and undergraduate students from India belongs to the Hindu religion.
On behalf of the Marist community, I would like to extend greetings and best wishes to all those who celebrate Diwali.