HSO, SCIA host celebration of Diwali

Festival of lights · Students listen to Swami Bhaidway Nandakumar lead the Pooja, a prayer, at a celebration of Diwali hosted by the Hindu Student Organization and Southern California Indo-Americans. - Mariya Dondonyan | Daily Trojan

Festival of lights · Students listen to Bharathwaj Nandakumar lead the Pooja, a prayer, at a celebration of Diwali hosted by the Hindu Student Organization and Southern California Indo-Americans. – Mariya Dondonyan | Daily Trojan

The Hindu Student Organization and Southern California Indo-Americans hosted a celebration of Diwali on Tuesday in the Ronald Tutor Campus Center Ballroom.

Within 10 minutes of the doors opening at 6:40 p.m., nearly half of the tables were filled with students, faculty and staff.

Diwali, which means “festival of lights,” is a Hindu festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. The festival, celebrated in autumn, is one of the largest in India. Many people arrived in regular clothing; however, some arrived in traditional Indian garb.

The program began with welcoming addresses by Varun Soni, dean of Religious Life, and Rev. Jim Burklo, associate dean of Religious Life.

After the speeches, everyone took off their shoes and gathered around the altar as Bharathwaj Nandakumar led the Pooja, or prayer.

Eena Singh, an academic advisor for the Marshall School of Business, then offered a reflection of what Diwali meant to her.

“Diwali is more than just the festival of lights,” she said. “It signifies the will to have peace in the world, to strive for freedom and to maintain strength in your character because you have to believe that good will triumph over evil.”

Performances then began as volunteers from SCIA and HSO ushered the guests to candle-lit tables to enjoy traditional Indian food. From Indian dance routines to music, performers demonstrated their talent and celebrated their culture.

Students clapped their hands and sang along as the Alaap Group, composed of Yogesh Bhosale and Apoorva Mahabaleshwara, graduate students studying computer science, performed a medley of a traditional and Bollywood song.

“We are really fortunate that we can represent Indian music here,” said Bhosale, a keyboardist. “It was my dream to perform music in the United States and USC.”

Freshman Joel Sigal, an aerospace engineering student, attended the event with freshman business administration major Siri Balusu.

Sigal said he especially enjoyed the second-to-last performance, covers of Bollywood songs.

“They were very engaging with the audience,” Sigal said.

The night ended in a performance by DJ Bhagyashree Pujar.

According to Sowmy Krishnakumar, a graduate student studying computer science and a HSO member, the organization started planning their Diwali celebration a month ago, and formed their partnership with SCIA around December of last year.

“It is our biggest event of the year so we had to plan a lot in advance,” he said.

Krishnakumar said that Soni encouraged HSO to collaborate with SCIA for the event.

“We thought, ‘Why make two separate Diwali celebrations when we could make a big Diwali event which could probably reach more people?’” he said.

Through Diwali celebrations are an annual affair for Balusu, she said she really enjoyed the festivities.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been completely immersed in Indian culture,” she said. “It was nice to retrace my roots and re-experience what really is a big part of my life through not just the food, but the performances and the overall vibe as well.”

Though Diwali is observed mainly by Hindus, Chaitanya Amin, a graduate student studying electrical engineering and HSO’s director of public relations, believes the celebration applies to a universal audience.

“Everyone always stands for good,” he said. “Everyone already stands for knowledge. Everyone stands for light. It is always appropriate, no matter what your beliefs are, because Diwali stands for good.”

Burklo echoed that sentiment during his speech.

“As I look out in the room now, I see a lot of light,” he said. “And so, tonight, celebrate this light which the divine has put in each of our souls, the light that shines out of our actions of compassion and kindness, interfaith harmony and understanding.”

This article previously identified Bharathwaj Nandakumar as Bhaidway Nandakumar. The article also stated that the event ended with SCIA’s “Bollywood Jukebox.” The event ended with a performance by DJ Bhagyashree Pujar. The Daily Trojan regrets the errors.