Hindu Student Organization brings Diwali to campus

Following traditional meals and ceremonies, solo dancers perform as part of the Hindu Student Organization’s vibrant Diwali celebration. (Dimple Sarnaaik | Daily Trojan)

Last weekend, a statue of the Hindu god Ganesh, a deity meant to remove any worries or obstacles from the room, greeted visitors at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center ballroom. Bright yellow and orange colors representing fire covered the tables, and rose petals were delicately scattered throughout the room for the Hindu Student Organization’s Diwali celebration Sunday night.

HSO President Eesen Sivapalan kicked off the event by explaining the significance of the holiday.

“[Diwali] signifies the triumph of good over evil, of light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance,” Sivapalan said.

The Diwali celebration is HSO’s biggest annual event, so Sivapalan said he began planning during the summer.

Sivapalan began the celebration by performing an invocation song for the crowd. Religious advisor Swami Atmavidyananda and Department of Public Safety officer Veeru Valencia then delivered opening remarks to the audience.

Afterward, attendees congregated to participate in the puja, a ritual in which they paid their respects to Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. Organizers then asked attendees to take their shoes off to honor the notion that “health is wealth.”

Director of Hindu Student Life Bharathwaj Nandakumar, who led the puja, explained his own connection to what he considers the most important part of the Diwali.

“If I’m doing this at home, I’m doing it just for myself,” he said. “If I’m doing it here, I’m connecting with all the students … it makes them feel closer to home.”

The evening featured a diverse lineup of performances, from solo dancers to the Trojan Bhangra dance team and the seven-person band Resonance.

After all seven musical acts concluded, the guests enjoyed dinner. The celebration’s food options ranged from pulav, rice with vegetables, to green chutney, spicy paste that acts as dipping sauce.

Isha Kamdar, a sophomore majoring in business administration who attended the celebration, explained why dinner was saved for last, as well as the importance of introducing others to the holiday.

“People who aren’t Indian that come to this event should fully experience what we’re about,” she said. “We’re really focused on talking and spending quality time and enjoying each other’s presence … Eating comes after that.”

Sivapalan said he wished that the event could be held in a bigger venue to accommodate  more people. Even though nearly 550 students lined up for the celebration, about 150 of them could not enter because the ballroom had a capacity of 400.

However, what mattered most to Sivapalan was that the guests enjoyed themselves and that HSO had captured the spirit of the celebration. According to Sivapalan, the event has existed at USC since 2007, and he hopes it will continue in coming years.

“For us, it’s the flame that’s so, so tiny,” he said. “If that’s the reason why we’re having this event here, that makes it all the more important to us.”