Students celebrate Navratri and Diwali

Heather L. Mueller

Sunday night began celebrations for the biggest Hindu holidays of the year.

The Hindu Student Society celebrated Navratri and Diwali Sunday night at the St. Paul Student Center. About 225 University students and community members practiced puja – Hindi for prayer – listened to live music, danced and dined on Indian food.

This year, the student group combined the two Hindu holidays into one event.

Officially celebrated on Oct. 21, Diwali, or the festival of lights, symbolizes the victory of good over evil. It is the most important Hindu holiday of the year.

The other holiday, Navratri, literally translates into nine nights of worship and dance.

Vishard Ragoonanan, society president, said the group holds one major function each semester.

“Navratri and Diwali are extraordinarily big celebrations in India,” he said.

Diwali celebrations consist of large gatherings of family and friends, dancing and food.

“This is one event where you especially eat a whole lot of sweets,” Ragoonanan said.

Events on campus such as Navratri and Diwali offer students an opportunity to learn about Hinduism and its culture, he said.

“Most students can’t travel,” he said. “They don’t have cars to go to the temples. So the role of our group is to promote a venue where Hindus and non-Hindus can come and participate in these festivals.”

The Hindu society’s goal, Ragoonanan said, is to get other religions to participate and promote awareness and understanding of Hinduism.

“We’d really like to see people from other religions come to our functions because I don’t think (Hinduism is) that well-known and I think we provide a good opportunity for students to find out,” he said.

Society treasurer and University graduate student Sajeet Haridas said Hinduism focuses on dharma and tolerance.

“You can actually be an atheist and be a Hindu at the same time,” he said. “You can believe in humanity.”

There are varying beliefs among different Hindu sects, Haridas said.

“There’s more diversity within Hinduism than exists anywhere outside of it,” he said. “You could take all of the world’s philosophies and it would not encompass the diversity that is just within Hindus.”

Although most of the society’s events are free to University students, the group has struggled to attract participants, Ragoonanan said. He said he hopes that will change.

Sunday night, Ragoonanan and his wife Ashima Naqpal led the celebration in puja, which was comprised of a sequence of Hindu prayers and rituals including a symbolic purifying and an offering of food and flowers.

After audience members participated in puja, a concert featuring the band Sur Street began.

Himanshu Agrawal, a University doctoral student, sings lead vocals in the band. He said they play for fun and the band is in the process of evolution.

“We are indie Indian music,” he said.

The band said they aren’t hoping to please everyone with their sounds, which are currently a mix of musical styles from the Indian subcontinent.

“There is hope it will catch on,” said Alvina Kittur, the band’s violist and a psychology master’s student.