Apologies for my hiatus from blogging on OSO. I have spent the last week busily engaged in hosting a special Diwali celebration at Princeton University (where, as my day job, I direct the University’s newly created Hindu Life Program). The event, held on Saturday November 14, was wonderful — a magical evening of shared devotion, learning, and celebration.
Lots of Hindu student groups at colleges and universities celebrate Diwali. What made Princeton’s celebration unique, though, was that this celebration was hosted by the institution’s Office of Religious Life and held right in University Chapel — “a truly ecumenical and inter-religious worship space” according to its website — which is home to Opening Exercises and Baccalaureate, and has hosted guest preachers like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Here’s an excerpt from the wire services about the event:
Princeton University will host its official celebration of the Hindu
festival of Diwali at the University Chapel on November 14, 2009. The
Diwali celebration is hosted by the University’s Office of Religious
Life (ORL) and spearheaded by the University’s recently created Hindu
Life Program. The program was launched last year as a pilot; this fall,
Princeton made the program a permanent part of the ORL and hired Vineet
Chander to be a full-time Coordinator for Hindu Life. The unique
appointment makes Chander the first Hindu chaplain in the more than two
hundred year history of the prestigious University.
[sic] said, “One of the aspects of the celebration that we’re most excited
about is the opportunity that it provides for guests to experience
something new and expand their horizons. Last year, I met guests who
regularly attend Hindu services at the Chapel, but who had never
witnessed Hindu worship. At the same time, I met members of the Indian
community who had lived in Princeton for decades but had never set foot
in the Chapel. To bring folks like this together under a common banner
was extremely gratifying.”
(source: Hindu Press International)
The festivities included offerings from The Mayapuris,
a talented young Kirtan group, as well as from some of Princeton’s
homegrown talent — dances by members of Kalaa, our Indian classical
dance company; singing by Raaganjali, our student Bhajan group; and
dance and musical performances from two faculty members.
Vice President for Campus Life, Janet Dickerson (a lady who — as far
as I am concerned — defines class, grace, and strong compassionate
leadership) was the VIP guest of honor and lit the ceremonial diya. I shared a brief textual reflection, and we conducted an arati (a Hindu worship service) in the Chapel’s sanctum sanctorum.
This was the second year I’ve had the pleasure of helping to put on
this event, and it seems well on its way to becoming a Princeton
Personally, this event was also a milestone for me. Like President
Obama’s historic Diwali message and diya-lighting, I think that events
like the Chapel celebration help to earn Hindus a place in the
mainstream, and provide a sharp contrast to my own experience coming of
age as a Hindu-American
When my parents arrived to the United States almost forty years ago,
there was practically no Hindu community in this country. There were
very few temples, little knowledge about thefaith, and no
real representation of Hinduism in mainstream American institutions
like universities. We struggled to mark Diwali the best we could, but
I always felt that it was just another reminder of feeling — even
though my sister and I were born in America — like strangers in a
strange land. Because Hindus follow a lunar calendar, the day is
observed on a different day each year, and often fell in the middle of
the work-week or when students are in the thick of midterms. Most of my
Diwali memories from my own college days involve modest gatherings with
other students in a dorm or student lounge or sometimes just taking a
study break long enough to light a candle and say a few paryers, alone
in my room.
Are things changing? In acknowledging Diwali in the university’s
shared sacred space, Princeton seems to be saying “Yes.” I truly
believe that with each candle lit in the Chapel on Saturday night, the
Hindu-American community grew a little bit older, wiser, and stronger.
And despite this past week’s lack of sleep, the stress, and the hiatus
from blogging (again, apologies) — I feel both blessed and humbled to
be allowed to play a role.