Diwali celebration brings UMD community together

By Eve Sampson

Before the doors to the BAPS Campus Fellowship Diwali exhibit opened Thursday, students and community members waited outside of the Adele H. Stamp Student Union Grand Ballroom. Some were dressed in glittering Indian traditional clothing, while others wore University of Maryland T-shirts and sweatpants.

Volunteers from the local Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha Temple welcomed visitors looking to view the exhibition. The BAPS Campus Fellowship ran the celebration, which involved a mix of student, alum and community member volunteers.

Diwali celebrations commemorate the beginning of the Hindu new year, which was on Nov. 4 this year.

Diwali originated in the Indian subcontinent and is typically celebrated by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs. The celebration lasts five days. Each day has a different meaning and includes specific rituals.

Kush Patel, a University of Maryland alum and BAPS volunteer, returned to the school for the event.

“The essence of Diwali is to show gratitude and appreciation to everything you’ve been given in your life,” Kush Patel said.

Every year, the BAPS Temple focuses the event on a different ethical concept. 

“In the previous years, we’ve done an exhibition or program based on different topics,” said Havya Patel, a BAPS Temple member and UMD alum who also returned for the event. “Last year, we had a big one on forgiveness and tolerance.” 

This year’s Diwali focus is different. 

“We’re trying to encourage the community in general to practice humility more,” Havya Patel said.

Dennis Amaya and Nishil Patel color the communal rangoli. Photo by Eve Sampson.

Students and community members were able to read informational placards, participate in personal reflection and engage in Diwali traditions at their own pace. Stations offered activities such as coloring a communal rangoli — a symbolic design typically made for Diwali using sand or rice — and using QR codes to send a word of personal reflection to a large screen all attendees could view. 

Participants could also view a large, ornate altar called an Annakut, or “mountain of food,” assembled to honor God.  After viewing, all attendees were offered a free meal.

The Annakut, or “mountain of food,” is a dedication to God. Photo by Eve Sampson.

Riya Patel, a senior and general biology major, cites food as a quintessential part of Diwali. Her favorite part of the celebration is cooking with her family. 

“Me, my mom and my sister, we all get up early, and we do it. And it’s a little bonding thing with our family,” she said. 

Rushil Savalia, a junior computer science major, currently serves as president of the BAPS Campus Fellowship. The fellowship’s mission statement says the organization “seeks to unite fellow Hindu and Non-Hindu students.”

“We definitely try to invite a lot of people, all cultures,” Savalia said. “We try to bring everyone together and have a fun time.”

Savalia said his favorite part of Diwali is  “everyone just coming together.” He emphasized the community aspect of Diwali. 

“I feel like in a lot of events, you’ll only have your family around,” he said, “Diwali is more of a friend and family (celebration), so you can bring everyone that you know.”

Featured photo: Riya Patel volunteers at the BAPS Campus Fellowship’s Diwali celebration. Photo by Eve Sampson.

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