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Campus & Community

Shining a Light on Diwali

Annual Hindu Festival Brings Inspiration to Campus Community, and for Many Students, Flavors of Home

By Maggie Haslam

Students looking at signs with Diwali Inspires in the background

Diwali Inspires, an annual festival sponsored by BAPS Campus Fellowship of UMD, hosted over 1,000 students on Tuesday for an evening of food, music, entertainment and inspiration to mark the Hindu new year.

Photos by Riley Sims Ph.D. '23

The kaleidoscopic glow that cut the inky November night outside the Stamp Student Union was a beacon for the event happening inside: the University of Maryland’s annual celebration of Diwali—the Hindu festival of lights—which drew over 1,000 students, faculty and staff on Tuesday to observe a holiday that signifies the triumph of light over darkness.

Hosted by BAPS Campus Fellowship of UMD, the event—which was free and open to all—offered a mix of food, entertainment and inspiration during the season of Diwali, a five-day festival that’s India’s biggest holiday of the year.

“It teaches us to embrace the light within ourselves and within others, that if you help someone else, it will come back to you,” said Om Patel ’26, BAPS president. “We’re very grateful to have this event and share what Diwali really is.”

Swirls of glittering saris and silk kurtas mixed with more Western attire (including Maryland sweatshirts) as guests munched savory samosas and mingled among a series of interactive displays based on this year’s theme: Diwali Inspires. Skits developed by students, traditional Diwali rituals and Indian music rounded out the program, followed by a traditional Indian meal that included Shahi paneer and naan.

“I haven’t been able to go home to celebrate Diwali, so having an event like this is really meaningful and important to me; it makes me feel like I’m closer to home,” said computer science major Bhakti Hegde ’26.

From its humble beginnings a decade ago in a small campus lecture hall, UMD’s Diwali celebration has exploded to a standing-room-only event in the Stamp’s Grand Ballroom; over 2,000 people registered for the festival this year. For many students, it was an opportunity to share their culture with friends.

We came because we wanted to support our friend, and we thought it would be interesting to learn about the culture,” said Leo Vilchez ‘25, who was lured to the event by his roommate, Ritik Gupta ’25. “I liked the inspirational messages they shared, it set the tone for the night—but the food is delicious too.”

The event is organized almost entirely by students, with several alums coming back year after year to volunteer. While it helps international students keep in touch with their roots, the messages of Diwali are for everyone, said Shruti Bhatt ’19, regardless of their background.

“In our faith, Diwali is a time to reflect and introspect, but at its core it’s a festival that inspires us to connect with ourselves, our family, our community,” she said. “At the end of the day, we hope people feel inspired and feel motivated to treat others with kindness; we want people to leave feeling that.”

students around a floral design in purple, orange and red

Ayshe Cohen (center left) and Ashely Borum (center right) add colored sand to a rangoli display. Rangoli is a traditional art form often decorated with colored sand or rice and hung around houses to attract positive energy. “Being able to connect with a bunch of strangers over one thing and support and motivate each other, I felt like it was really symbolic of Diwali,” Simon Duran ’25 said of the rangoli project.

Three students take a photo

From left, computer science majors Rohan Tadisetty ’27, Thushan Ranasinghe ’27 and Nitin Enjamuri ’27, engage with the ‘i am’ exhibit at Diwali Inspires.

A couple takes a photo in a mirror

College Park Mayor Fazlul Kabir takes a selfie with a student in front of the ‘i am’ exhibit in Stamp Student Union.

Speakers on a stage with a colorful yellow display

Skits developed by BAPS students (including “man on the street” interviews with Terps about what Diwali is) covered the holiday’s meaning, from introspection and evaluation of the previous year to volunteerism and giving to your community.

A student adds a post-it note to a wall that says Diwali Inspires

Jitesh Majety ’24, a master’s student in software engineering who is from India, places a sticky note of what inspires him on the Diwali Inspires exhibit. Post-Its with “my mom,” “love,” “laughter” and “cooking” plastered the wall.

Three women in traditional Indian clothing

From left, criminology and studio art double major Radhakund Ramnarine ‘25, environmental science and policy major Aishwariya Srivastava ‘24 and graphic design major Miri Moreau ‘25, dressed in traditional Indian clothing.

A Hindu priest speaks on stage in front of a colorful yellow display

Pujya Ghanshyamseva Swami from BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir of Washington, D.C., speaks about inspiration through small acts of kindness.

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