Bates’ First Student-Led Diwali Celebration Hosted by the South Asian Students Association

Typically celebrated with diya lighting, decorations, fireworks, puja (prayers), sweets, gifts and food, Diwali, or Deepavali, is one of the most celebrated holidays in South Asia. The celebrations last five days and symbolize the victory of light over darkness. 

This year, in its second year as a fully operating club, the South Asian Students Association (SASA), in collaboration with the Multifaith Chaplaincy, hosted a Bates College Diwali Celebration on Nov. 4 in Chase Hall Lounge in the Office of Intercultural Education. Members from the International Club and Sangai Asia helped organize the event and were in attendance.

String lights were hung up on the walls, tea light centerpieces and paper rangoli (sand art) outlines were placed on each table, music played from a speaker system and food from Mother India was served. 

This was the first time Diwali was celebrated at Bates in-person. Last year, SASA’s first year hosting the event, the holiday was observed over Zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

Sanika Shah ’22, Devanshi Trivedi ’22, Niharika Tuladhar ’22, Nathan Hyun ’23 and Associate Multifaith Chaplain Raymond Clothier all helped plan the event, meeting for three Mondays to discuss logistics and divide up roles.

In addition to other responsibilities, Shah was responsible for creating a playlist and sending it out to the planning committee and SASA. 

“It was really fun and meaningful to be able to bring that part of our [South Asian culture] to Bates,” Shah said. “I think it’s important for minority students to have the resources and ability to celebrate their culture and important holidays with the community and in a way that is meaningful because it is not something that is given to us automatically (like Christmas). It’s important that we are able to feel at home, especially with other people who understand our culture.” 

Associate Multaith Chaplain Raymond Clothier says that Diwali celebrations of some sort have been happening years before he had arrived at Bates in 2013. Due to Diwali’s cultural and religious significance, the Multifaith Chaplaincy has organized Diwali celebrations when a student club had not taken the lead, but this year, because of the strong student leadership from SASA, Sangai Asia, and the International Club, the event was student led, Clothier said. 

“Honestly, what I enjoy the most about this event is seeing students celebrating a holiday that is an important connection to home and an affirmation of identity,” Clothier said. “This year, taking pictures was a big part of the event, and it was a joy to see how this created immediate connections to family and home. I love that Diwali has many layered meanings and that it brings light in so many ways.”

Alaina Rauf ’25, a member of SASA and a student who attended the festivities, shared that she appreciated how SASA has allowed her to meet other students from similar backgrounds as her, and the ability to receive mentorship has been a highlight in her Bates experience. 

“Celebrating Diwali for the first time this year was a memorable experience. Despite being from a different religion and region of South Asia, I felt welcomed and found it special to learn the roots of this festival,” Rauf said. “I truly loved seeing everyone bring their unique backgrounds while celebrating with one another.”