SU Diwali Celebration brings diverse campus together

Hindu celebration, Diwali, unites SU campus

Published: November 10, 2018
Syracuse Diwali celebration on Nov. 8, 2018

In a small room in the Art and Music History Department offices, students and faculty gathered around a conference table to take part in a Hindu tradition on Syracuse University’s campus last night. Nov. 7 marks the festival of lights known as Diwali, a celebration in honor of various Hindu gods, represented in a ritual of decorative lighting.

During Diwali, clay lamps, known as diyas, are filled with oil and lit by a cotton wick, all thoughtfully organized along balconies and rooftops. Here on the SU campus, sand-filled paper cups are used in place of artisan clay lamps, and electric candles substitute the cotton wick flames.

The event, which has taken place on the SU campus since 2015, was held this year on the Orange Grove. Some 1600 luminaries were laid on the granite pavers for three hours on Thursday evening.



The event was organized by Art History Professor Romita Ray, who grew up celebrating Diwali in India and recalled it as an opportunity to foster a sense of community.

“A lot of people think it’s just a Hindu festival. It has actually been very secular for many many years,” said Ray. “So, even though it’s a Hindu festival, people of all faiths wish each other during Diwali. Everybody’s included. Everybody can light up their homes. You don’t have to be a Hindu in order to celebrate.”

Diwali’s secular appeal could be seen in the diversity of last night’s participants, as well. Preparations for the festival began early in the day with the construction of luminaries, as students and faculty from a variety of schools and majors funneled in and out of Bowne Hall to help with assembly. Students from the school of drama sat beside architecture majors and others from the department of religion, all with the purpose of bringing this celebration of Indian culture to campus.  

At nightfall, the lights were arranged and the celebration began. However, the allure of the lights was not the only incentive for Diwali participants yearning for a taste of India.

“No Indian festival is complete without food,” Ray said, thus traditional Indian dishes like samosa, biryani and chai were all apart of last night’s Diwali festivities.

At 10 p.m., the luminaries were disassembled and by 11 p.m., the Orange Grove had been cleared, but the resonant spirit of Diwali still lingered.

“Diwali is about light, plain and simple,” Ray said. “That is the most powerful manifestation of anything divine. It cuts across all faiths. Whether you’re Hindu, whether you’re Muslim, whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, it doesn’t matter. We all acknowledge light as this unifying power.”

Though only lit on the campus for a short three hours, Diwali’s luminaries shed a bright light on the unity shared across Syracuse’s diverse campus.