The Rutgers chapter of Hindu Youth for Unity, Virtues and Action (YUVA), a national student organization that celebrates Hindu culture and values, recently hosted a virtual Diwali event that a handful of administrators attended.
University President Jonathan Holloway, Rutgers—New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Salvador B. Mena, Executive Vice Chancellor for Administration and Planning Felicia McGinty, Director of Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships Kerri Wilson and Hindu Chaplain at Rutgers Dipal Pandya were all present.
At the event, students provided an overview of the significance of Diwali and its history to the administrators, said Jaanhavi Ganesh, treasurer of Hindu YUVA.
The holiday, known as the festival of lights, is a significant tradition among Hindus, Jains and Sikhs.
Students started the event by lighting a diya, which is an oil lamp made of clay and signifies good over evil, light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance, said Ganesh.
Ganesh said, they then explained the holiday’s religious backstory in which Lord Ram returns to Ayodhya after defeating an evil king named Raavan.
Aside from celebrating, the organization also addressed the growing issue of food insecurity, which has been worsened by the pandemic, and how the philanthropic initiative SewaDiwali is working towards combatting it, said Ganesh. SewaDiwali was created by Hindu, Jain, Sikh and Buddhist organizations to fight against food insecurity by donating to local food pantries.
Sewa is a Sanskrit word for selfless service, which is highly valued in Hindu culture, said Ganesh. He explained why the organization decided to participate in this initiative and the progress it has made nationwide.
“Due to the pandemic, food insecurity has skyrocketed, and we thought that it was necessary to give back, so we decided to bring this initiative to our own Scarlet community ... So far in 2020, there have been more than 100,000 (pounds) of food collected and distributed to food pantries by more than 160+ organizations in 26 states,” said Ganesh.
Hindu YUVA at Rutgers collaborated with five fellow student organizations – Association of Indians at Rutgers (AIR), Desi Intercultural Youth Association (DIYA), Rutgers Hindu Students Council (HSC), MannMukti, Malayali Association at Rutgers (MAR) – in order to bring SewaDiwali into fruition, said Ganesh. The organizations are fundraising for the Rutgers Food Pantry.
The administrators at the event voiced how the meaning of Diwali resonates with them and their appreciation for the Hindu community.
“I knew a little bit of (the) different aspects of Diwali but not this kind of deeper historical context and also local context, (including) things that are happening at Rutgers. (This) just reminds me, I cannot wait for us to do this stuff in person,” said Holloway, according to the Hindu YUVA Diwali celebrations video.
"The triumph of light over darkness, the triumph of knowledge over ignorance, that's something that resonates a lot in (the U.S.) right now and what we've just gone through in this election. And hopefully, those kinds of themes can aid our country (in) moving forward,” said Molloy, according to the video.
With a prominent South Asian community on campus, students are commemorating their diversity in positive ways. Hindu YUVA has been an active club on campus since its first semester last fall, according to Ganesh.
“During the pandemic, we organized a student support helpline nationally and supported ... more than 400 students with accommodation, groceries and mental health support. Over this summer, we hosted an (eight)-week webinar series along with (six) other Hindu YUVA chapters called 'Hinduism in the 21st Century,' where we had prominent speakers speak about classical arts, sexuality and gender fluidity, literature and much more,” said Ganesh.
The organization is using its efforts to unite the Hindu community on campus and advocate for better health, wellness and education. On Dec. 4, it will be hosting an event and classical dance recital called "Niranajana: A Tribute to Lost Souls," honoring the lives lost due to the pandemic. Feel free to check it out and attend if you’re interested in giving back to your community and celebrating Indian culture in meaningful ways.