By Maris Medina
A golden, ornately-decorated stage shone through the dimly lit expanse of Stamp’s Grand Ballroom. Along the stage were a handful of figurines, representing various gods and religious figures in the Hindu religion. A swami, known as a Hindu religious leader and teacher, stood at the podium dressed in his orange robes. “We equate a pizza slice with happiness,” he said.
The pizza analogy, a lighthearted way to discuss the void material happiness leaves behind, was just one of many of the swami’s points in his speech at the BAPS Campus Fellowship of UMD’s 8th annual Diwali Celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 1.
In India, Diwali is known as the “festival of lights,” and is the biggest and most important holiday of the year to Hindus as it brings in the Hindu New Year.
BAPS Campus Fellowship is a student organization on campus that discusses and participates in Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha, a socio-spiritual Hindu organization and the largest Hindu sect in the United States commonly known as BAPS.
Shruti Bhatt, a junior journalism major and one of the organizers of the event explained Diwali as a “time to reflect on our life and to try to do something better.”
The campus fellowship group has put on a Diwali celebration at the University of Maryland for eight years now, incorporating both the traditional and modern into the event. This year, it was titled, “In the Joy of Others.”
Fitting the theme, the event displayed an exhibition exploring modern day service and happiness, a comedic skit featuring college students’ conflicts with the faith, and a speech by a swami. The event also incorporated traditional practices like offering up food to God.
Although the foundation of the event is the religion itself, Shruti Bhatt says that a main tenant of the event is the emphasis on helping others.
“We don’t only talk about us as humans,” she said. “We talk about how we can give back to the community and how we can always work on having good character.”
Disha Savli, a junior biology major, remembers growing up celebrating Diwali and eventually transitioning to assisting with festivities as she grew older. This year as BAPS Campus Fellowship President, Savli helped with much of the event planning. Diwali is the fellowship’s biggest public event of the year.
Savli said that the event marketing involved chalking, distributing flyers and contacting groups through listservs. Attendees included University President Wallace Loh, professors, students from surrounding schools, and several students from this university who don’t necessarily practice Hinduism, according to Shruti Bhatt.
Ruta Bhatt, a campus fellowship member, said the celebration is valuable to anybody outside of Hinduism or the Indian culture.
“Our event reaches out to so many individuals who aren’t Hindu or Indian,” said the senior mechanical engineering major. “They tell me that they take away a different perspective on where they kind of stand in life.”
On a personal level, the Diwali event allows Ruta Bhatt to do a lot of introspective thinking.
“You don’t have time [during the school year] to reflect on the past year and where you stand as a human being,” he said. “This event specifically is my trigger to think what you have done this year and what you need to do.”
As a college student practicing Hinduism, Ruta Bhatt said that one of the values his parents instilled in him was to “stick to your roots and values.”
“If I’m in touch with my cultural or religious identity, I try to keep myself in check so I’m not caught up in my own ego,” he said. “My culture teaches me to care about others.”
Shruti Bhatt believes that students who don’t practice Hinduism can still take things away from the faith applicable to their own lives, such as helping the less fortunate.
“One of the core principles is treat others the way you want to be treated,” she said. If we’re lucky to have more money than others, more food than others, to share that.”