Diwali festival will be celebrated in University Chapel

The Hindu festival of Diwali will be marked with a celebration and worship service at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 13, in the Princeton University Chapel. The event is free and open to the public. 

The Diwali celebration is hosted by the University's Office of Religious Life and organized by the University's Hindu Life Program. This year's celebration builds on similar observances held for the past two years. The celebration held in 2008 marked the first time an official Diwali service was held in the chapel.

A harvest festival often considered the Hindu New Year and the most important holiday on the Hindu calendar, Diwali will be observed with devotional music, sacred readings, classical Indian dance and a traditional Hindu worship service. Diwali is traditionally celebrated by Hindus, as well as by Sikhs and Jains. Because Hindus follow a lunar calendar, Diwali is observed on a different day each year. The holiday's official date this year is Nov. 5, 2010.

The worship service at the chapel will feature University students, faculty and staff, as well as local Princeton residents and members of the broader Indian community in New Jersey.

Vineet Chander, Coordinator for Hindu life at Princeton and main organizer of the celebration, said that all are welcome to attend the event and organizers hope that this year's celebration will also serve as an exploration of cross-cultural collaboration.

"This year we've made 'East meets West' the theme of Diwali at the Chapel," Chander said. "One of the things that we're most excited about is the opportunity for guests to experience a harmonizing of Hindu traditions and ritual and Western influenced art form. The celebration honors the roots of Diwali, and at the same time recognizes that the spirit of the holiday can find new expression when we expand our horizons."

To that end, the celebration features collaborations among internationally-acclaimed world music groups Gaura Vani & The Mayapuris and the Princeton University Chapel Choir. This will be the first time the choir, who will be singing an original composition that draws from both Indian and European musical styles, will participate in a Hindu event on campus. In a similar spirit, Bala Devi Chandrashekar, the artist in residence at the University's Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, will perform a dance drama that pairs classical Indian dance form with a composition by Tchaikovsky.

The event also will include devotional performances by students who study Indian classical music and dance, and Princeton professor of mathematics Manjul Bhargava who will play the tabla (an Indian drum).

While the chapel was founded as a Presbyterian house of worship, it has since grown to become "a truly ecumenical and inter-religious worship space" for students and the wider Princeton community, as described on the website for the University's religious life office.

Chander was appointed by the Office of Religious Life in August 2008 as the University's first coordinator of Hindu religious life, as part of efforts to enhance support for Princeton students from a variety of backgrounds and religious traditions. After a one-year pilot, the coordinator of Hindu life was made a permanent, full-time position in the Office of Religious Life.

Chander said that, for some Hindus, the significance of Diwali being observed at the chapel – which is home to Opening Exercises and Baccalaureate, and has hosted guest preachers such as Martin Luther King Jr. – goes beyond the event itself.

"While hosting this event, I've met guests who regularly attend services at the chapel, but who had never witnessed Hindu worship," Chander said. "At the same time, I've also met members of the Indian community who had lived in Princeton for decades, but had never set foot in the chapel. By bringing folks like this together under a common banner, and by honoring a Hindu holiday in Princeton's shared sacred space, we are striving to lead the way in warmly welcoming the Hindu community into America's pluralistic landscape."