Dispelling darkness: Stanford hosts annual DiwaliFest

The Stanford Hindu Students Association (HSA) hosted their annual DiwaliFest in Memorial Church (MemChu) Sunday, attracting a large congregation of all ages as attendees filled nearly every pew in the church.

“We want to take a few moments to celebrate and remove all the darkness from our lives and this world. We want to bring light into our communities,” said HSA student leader Akash Shah ’26 during the opening ceremony.

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is seen by observants as a time when light conquers darkness and good triumphs over evil. Student organizers opened the celebration with prayers (puja) to invoke the blessings of the gods. With lit candles, they held various prayers for peace (shanti) and well-being (swasti vachan), and led a chant inviting attendees to unite in devotion and bless future pursuits of happiness. Attendees then tied a sacred red and yellow thread (raksha) around the wrists of their friends and family members for protection and long life.  

The HSA also gave out flowers — meant to represent the beauty and purity of the natural world — and LED lighted candles to all DiwaliFest attendees. Attendees prayed for harmony in all elements of the universe and natural world. 

“We promote a virtuous life with harmony and global peace,” said HSA student leader Sanjay Nagaraj ‘25.

Although Diwali is celebrated by mostly Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Jains, HSA leaders emphasized that DiwaliFest was open to everyone of all faiths. 

“We seek world peace and harmony between all elements in this world and the wisdom to do good in all that we do,” Akash Shah said. 

The celebration featured dance performances from Divya Nagaraj ’24 and Stanford dance group Basmati Raas. Other students of HSA played traditional Indian instruments like flute, tabla and sitar.

In the spirit of unity, Kathak students from the University of California, Berkeley were invited to dance at DiwaliFest. Kathak, which originates from North India, is a dance that “places emphasis on intricate footwork, complex hand gestures and facial expressions,” according to the HSA. 

Stanford Raagapella, a South Asian Fusion a capella group, also performed during the event. Vivek Agrawal ’07, an R&B singer and songwriter, said he first found his love for singing and music as a former member of Raagapella.

“Pursuing music has been a dream of mine since I was a Stanford undergrad,” Agrawal said. “I first performed here on Diwali in 2003, 20 years ago.”

Sruthi Subramanian ’25 and Hiya Shah ’25 attended DiwaliFest together and participated in lighting the aarti at the end of the celebration, a tradition which Subramanian said signifies the triumph of “good over evil and honors the gods and festivities.”

Subramanian expressed gratitude over the HSA’s extensive efforts to host a festive Diwali for everyone. 

“It’s definitely a different feeling because you’re more with friends and community instead of your own family, but I really appreciate the HSA holding this event,” Subramanian said.

Like Subramanian, Hiya Shah also typically celebrates Diwali at home with food, time with family and friends and a puja. She said that being able to celebrate Diwali on campus made her feel more connected to the Stanford community.

“I have a whole WhatsApp group chat with my family and they send messages such as, ‘May the light of Diwali brighten each day of your life,’” Hiya Shah said. “It’s more digitized now, because all of my family is very far away, [but] it’s nice to be part of this community on campus and be celebrated in some way or another.”

Originally posted 2023-11-14 09:02:56.