Drexel Indian association celebrates Diwali harvest festival

From left, Jaydev Dave, Mansi Thakker, Avani Dave, and Richa Bhatice perform Diwali ceremonies at Drexel's Indian Undergraduate Students Association's annual festival. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer
From left, Jaydev Dave, Mansi Thakker, Avani Dave, and Richa Bhatice perform Diwali ceremonies at Drexel's Indian Undergraduate Students Association's annual festival. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer (Mansi Thakker, Avani Dave, and Richa Bhatice perform Diwali rites at Drexel's Indian Undergraduate Students Association's festival. DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: November 21, 2012

For Jaydev Dave, the most challenging part of completing Puja and Aarti for an large audience is shortening the Indian prayer ritual.

"Typically it lasts for two hours, but I had to shorten it for the event," said Dave. "I don't mind, though. This is something we do in our home, with my fiance, family, and friends, but I think it is great that we can share it with others."

Dave, a 2012 Ph.D. graduate of Drexel University, led the opening prayers of Puja and Aarti for Diwali Lights 2012 - a public celebration of Diwali, the Hindu celebration of the harvest year presented by Drexel's Indian Undergraduate Student Association (DISHA).

Along with several other Indian, South Asian, and Hindu organizations from Drexel, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of the Sciences, Sunday's Diwali Lights 2012 was the second event in what DISHA hopes will become an annual tradition for the Indian and Hindu community at Drexel, neighboring universities, and the Philadelphia area.

Drexel alone is home to approximately 1,850 undergraduate students from India or South Asia, or of Indian or South Asian descent. With a 20-member executive board, DISHA aims to connect Drexel students with the culture and spirit of India.

"We want to introduce Drexel to our community," said Tarika Chawla, the fund-raising representative for DISHA. "It's not just for us Indian students or Indian international students, but it's for everyone to experience."

Almost 800 people celebrated Diwali at the four-hour event at the Main Building with musical performances by student organizations from Penn, Garba and Dhol festival dances by Drexel students, a photo booth, and a henna-tattoo station.

Also known as the "harvest festival," Diwali falls on the night of the new moon on the Hindu calendar and continues for five days. The holiday marks a new year with hopes of spiritual and financial prosperity and happiness. It is welcomed with desserts, food baskets, handmade crafts, and lights.

"It's kind of like Thanksgiving or Christmas in a way. It's a big holiday and we celebrate in a big way," said Chawla.

Offerings were made to Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, and Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, during the Puja prayer to thank her for the successes of the last year and to ask for good luck for the next year. Aarti followed, where a tray of offerings was waved in a circle to praise the gods.

Originally from Mumbai, India, Dave moved to Philadelphia to attend Drexel as a graduate student in 2006. He earned his master's in medical engineering in 2008. Dave became a member of PRAGTHI, Drexel's Indian graduate student association, as soon as he reached campus, and his sister, currently a junior at Drexel, did the same with DISHA.

"Diwali is a holiday that you celebrate with family and friends, and when you're away from home, the people in this organization are not just your friends, but they are your family," said Dave's sister, Avani. "That's why this event is so fantastic, because it's with family, and we welcome new friends and family."


Contact Samantha Byles at 215-854-2771 or sbyles@phillynews.com

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