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Diwali Decorations

Popular Diwali celebrations planned across Northeastern global campuses

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

When former Northeastern graduate student Sagar Rajpal organized the first Diwali celebration on the university’s Boston campus in 2017, he had no idea hundreds would pack the Sacred Space and ballroom at Ell Hall.

Continued every year under Rajpal’s direction, the “festival of lights” last year drew more than 2,000 celebrants. This year, he is expecting even more as the holiday celebration keeps growing in popularity. 

The event from 3 to 8 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, at the Curry Student Center in Boston includes darshan and diya decorating on the second floor, a photo both of the first floor, and food in the Robinson Quad. There will also be a rangoli competition from 3 to 5 p.m. in the mezzanine, with voting and judging from 5 to 8 p.m.

Diwali will also be celebrated at Northeastern’s campuses in Toronto, Vancouver, San Jose, Seattle and Oakland. San Jose and Seattle celebrations were held on Friday, Oct. 21.

At Mills College at Northeastern in Oakland, Diwali will be celebrated from 5 to 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 24, at Solidarity Lounge, next to the Student Union. The event includes spiritual practices, Indian food, dancing to Bollywood music and card games.

At the Toronto campus, Diwali will be celebrated from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28. The event includes dance performances, music, and traditional and cultural shows of Indian culture and food.

Rajpal, who is currently the associate director at the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, says when he first organized the celebration in Boston five years ago “it was a dream project.” And now, he says, he is excited to see thousands of people of various backgrounds join the celebration.

“Being raised in a multi-faith and multi-cultural society in Mumbai, India, I saw people from all religions and traditions come together to celebrate Diwali. Everyone carries a light within them, and it is so important to not only nurture, but also celebrate this light,” Rajpal says. “When I planned the first Desi Diwali at Northeastern University in 2017, the primary intention was to create a space for everyone—regardless of their identity or background—to come together, as a community, to celebrate the light within them, and the light of the world.”

Monday’s Diwali celebration on the Boston campus will feature thousands of lights, food, worship, music, competition and a photo booth. Unlike previous years, tickets are not required to attend. Also, to accommodate more people, the event was extended to five hours.

“This is a fair, like a drop-in drop-out kind of event,” Rajpal says. “Also, it’s not ticketed in any fashion. So it’s open to the wider community to take part in the celebration and essentially get a sneak peek, different aspects of the celebration.” 

Because the event has become so popular, Rajpal said he is looking for a venue that would be able to accommodate up to 5,000 for future celebrations. 

Diwali is a five-day holiday known as the festival of lights and celebrated by Hindus, Jain, Sikhs and some Buddhist communities. Rajpal says it is both a religious and cultural holiday, considered by many to be the biggest of the year. 

According to tradition, diyas—clay lamps with ghee/oil and a wick—are lighted in and outside homes. Rajpal says any light can be used today. The holiday involves worship of various gods and goddesses, including Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity, and Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge and the arts. Food is a big part of the holiday, as is rangoli, the colorful art form that originated in India.  

“The festival of lights celebrates not only the lights outside, but also the light within you,” Rajpal says. “Community is the most important part of Diwali; being with your friends and family to celebrate the light within and without you.”

Alexander Levering Kern, director of the Center for Spirituality, Dialogue and Service, and Megan Compaine, associate director of Academic Services and International Student Support in the Office of Global Service, have been instrumental in organizing the Diwali celebrations over the years, Rajpal says.

In addition to the Monday event in Boston, Sakshi Chougule, a graduate student at Northeastern and president of the NU Sanskriti organization, is helping to organize another Diwali celebration at Blackman Auditorium from 8 to 10:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28.

Chougule says the Friday celebration will be an entertainment event, with dance, music and a fashion show. 

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