Today, Oct. 21, might not be marked as a special day on a typical American calendar, but it’s an important day to many international students currently studying at Missouri S&T. For them, today is they day they celebrate Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights.
Rahul Menon, treasurer of S&T’s India Association, described how they celebrate the festival here in Rolla, and what it means to their culture. Menon also shared the story of how the tradition of Diwali came to be.
“According to our culture….there was a king, his name was Rama.” Menon began. “He was actually the incarnation of a god, and his wife was abducted by a demon. He goes on a quest to destroy the demon and bring her back. When he came back the entire city was so happy to see him and his wife…they lit up the entire city with lights.” Menon explained the word Diwali comes from word for the lamps the people used to light up their city.
Traditionally, according to Menon, Diwali is celebrated over a span of days, with each day honoring a a specific Hindu god in addition to the one from the story. During the days of Diwali, family members gather together and often buy new clothes for loved ones. Homemade sweets are usually made together as well.
But the most integral part of Diwali, is the fireworks.
“Begin the festival of lights…it wouldn’t be Diwali without the light aspect,” said Menon. “It’s kind of like the Fourth of July here.”
The light of Diwali, according to Menon, represents the victory of good over evil, and everything positive.
“That’s the main aim of Diwali, where we choose to celebrate and be thankful for everything positive in our life, the light of our lives,” Menon said.
As part of the India Association’s Diwali celebrations, there will be a fireworks display outside the Havener Center at 6:15 this evening. Just prior to the fireworks, at 4 p.m., there will be a cultural show in Leach Theatre, featuring traditional dances representing the many different people of India.
“India is a pretty big country, we have about 29 states in India,” explained Menon. “Each state has it’s own language, it’s own traditions. It’s like 29 small countries within a big country, so we try to cover as many cultures and traditions as possible.”
Menon said he would like to see everyone gather to celebrate the Festival of Lights, and it doesn’t matter if someone is the same faith if they want to take part.
“It’s an opportunity to get together with everyone. Being a Hindu, I look forward to Christmas celebrations and my friends calling me…I’m more than excited about Thanksgiving. Getting a glimpse into someone else’s culture or faith brings us together,” he said. “At 6:30, if you look outside Havener Center…you’re going to find tons of different nationalities, and we’re pretty grateful to them for making time to come attend our event. That’s something that makes us unique, our Diwali celebration is not just Indian, it’s a celebration of different nationalities coming together.”
According to Menon, the university currently boasts more than 300 Indian students, and even though they may come from different parts of their home countries, bringing with them different cultures and traditions, they still come together to bring a little of their home to Rolla.
“It doesn’t really feel like you’ve left home, because you have so many people from India, no matter the festival…the entire community comes together. We’re not segregated by the faith. Because of the strength we have, each and every celebration feels just like home.”
To the members of the Rolla community and Missouri S&T, Menon said “Everyone’s been gracious, accepting us into their lives. Us putting on Diwali is a way of thanks. We’d like to give everyone here a glimpse of our lives back home.”