SGA members take Diwali into their own hands

By Chloe Els, Staff Writer

The best part of Diwali, according to Sam Rajesh, a junior visual media arts major and Spiritual Life senator for the Student Government Association, is lighting diyas—small oil lamps—with her family.  

“You have to put [the diyas] at the front of every door to welcome our god to come through,” she said. “I remember it distinctly: being with my family, surrounded by light.”

Diwali is a five-day religious holiday observed by practitioners of Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism. It is a celebration of light in the face of darkness. 

SGA President Pranit Chand, a senior interdisciplinary studies major who celebrates Diwali every year, said Diwali “signifies the triumph of good over evil.” Chand interprets it as a time to fight internal demons and become a better person. Diwali is often thought of as a period of introspection; taking the time to figure out how to move forward from what in a more positive way.

The different cultures that observe Diwali interpret the holidays in different ways. 

Hindus often light diyas as symbols of prosperity for the goddess of wealth, Lakshmi. Jains honor Diwali as a time of attaining spiritual enlightenment. For Sikhs, Diwali celebrates Guru Hargobind, who fought to free himself and 52 other princes from imprisonment. 

SGA plans to celebrate Diwali by hosting a series of events for Emerson students to partake in. These events range from diya decorating contests, to henna art, to painting a Rangoli design on the lobby floor of the 2 Boylston Place. Rangoli art, a colorful, geometric or floral pattern, is thought to promote luck and well-being.

While Chand shared his excitement for celebrating Diwali with other Emerson students, he also shared the difficulty of celebrating in a traditional way at Emerson. “We have to do an improvised version of Diwali,” he said. 

One of the changes is replacing what would normally be a real flame in the diyas with LED lights to adhere to school policy. Another more significant difference is students not being able to spend the holiday with their families like many of them normally would. Instead, they turn to each other and surround themselves with community at school-sponsored events like this one.

SGA took the initiative to organize the Diwali celebrations this year because Emerson does not have an organization for South Asian students. However, Chand is part of a group working to create such an organization. 

Both Rajesh and Chand noted the challenges of being South Asian international students at Emerson, Rajesh being from Dubai and Chand from Nepal. Chand in particular remembers feeling lost without a collective space for other South Asian students at Emerson. 

“I remember when I first came to Emerson, I saw another guy who looked like me,” he said. “He told me there are more of us out there, and I know we could do so much more in the community if we had a collective identity.” 

Last year, Chand and other SGA members hosted a small Diwali celebration at Emerson. After the event, Chand texted his friend who is South Asian and graduated from Emerson the year before. 

“My friend was almost in tears,” Chand said. “He said he wished something like that had existed for him when he was at Emerson.”

As Chand continues to push for the establishment of a South Asian student organization, he hopes it can become a safe space for students. While the main focus is uniting other South Asian students, both Chand and Rajesh want the rest of the student body to feel welcome to learn more about South Asian culture and religion.

As an SGA Spiritual Life senator, one of Rajesh’s goals is to make Emerson a safe space to be curious about religion. 

“Religion can feel like a taboo subject,” she said, “but people usually aren’t offended if you ask questions to understand someone’s religion better.”

Chand emphasized that the most important thing when it comes to educating yourself is to be respectful. “Incorporating diversity is all about accepting other cultures,” he said.

With this in mind, Chand encourages students of all backgrounds to explore different religions during their time at Emerson. He believes the freedom to do so is one of the best parts of attending college.

On Oct. 27, SGA will be partnering with other Emerson organizations, including the Center for Spiritual Life, to host a Diwali dinner and Bollywood dance performance in the Student Performance Center Blackbox in the Little Building. This event will be open to the entire community, and anyone who wishes to attend is welcome.

“Diwali is a reason to have fun, take a break, and rejuvenate,” Chand said. “If we’re able to share that, why not?”