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Harvard Dharma Hosts Annual Diwali Celebration in Mather House

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Students packed the Mather faculty deans’ residence Sunday evening, waiting in line for freshly cooked traditional Indian food in celebration of Diwali — also known as the festival of lights.

The event was organized by Dharma, a Hindu student association. Diwali is a major holiday observed by multiple South Asian religions. The holiday is a celebration of the Hindu god Rama’s defeat of the demon king Ravana.

The Mather faculty deans — Lakshminarayanan Mahadevan and Amala K. Mahadevan — have hosted the event in their residence since 2017.

Dhara N. Patel ’27, an attendee of the event, said that the major themes of the festival are “good defeats evil” and “light in times of darkness.”

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The majority of attendees of the event were dressed in traditional South Asian attire, many in colorful saris and angarkha. The Diwali festivities began with a puja, a collection of prayers and rituals sung in Sanskrit.

Sumedh Hindupur, a Ph.D. candidate in Electrical Engineering from southern India, said that the event was “impressive.”

According to Hindupur, the rituals of the festival vary across cultures and regions in India. Despite this, he said the Diwali rituals put on by Dharma were able to incorporate “some aspects of what everybody does.”

The puja was followed by the serving of a traditional South Asian meal, which was prepared by a group of senior student volunteers earlier in the day. The seniors also served the rest of the guests before eating themselves.

In addition to Hindu students, Diwali is also celebrated by other South Asian religions such as Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Muslims.

Shameel Aubeelauck ’26, social media chair for the Harvard South Asian Association, said that while his parents are Hindu and Muslim, he identifies as agnostic.

“In my family, we don’t celebrate it as much as I’ve seen it here,” he said. “I think I’ve just been more immersed in South Asian culture while being here.”

Drima P. Patel ’27 highlighted the inclusivity of the Dharma event, describing the event as “open” and “welcoming.”

Maya R. Ganesh ’26 said Dharma and its festivities were welcoming to people without experience celebrating the holiday.

“I think it did a really great job – very great for people who don’t know about the experience,” Ganesh said.

“For people who’ve done it their whole lives, it’s really engaging,” she added.

Correction: November 15, 2023

A previous version of this article incorrectly described Harvard Dharma as a South Asian student organization. In fact, it is a Hindu student organization.

—Staff writer Megan S. Degenhardt can be reached at megan.degenhardt@thecrimson.com.

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