Dwelling on Diwali

By Saniya More & Divya Murthy

How one garden, a thousand lights, and a few cups of chai created a new home away from home

Photo by Hanna Benavides.

Photo by Hanna Benavides.

The funny thing about culture is one sometimes may not really notice it until they venture away from home. Because of this, many can feel lost and disconnected with their traditions and customs when they aren’t with their family and surrounded by familiarity. Diwali, a cultural festival celebrated by many South Asian communities, can often bring on feelings of homesickness and longing. One way to come together away from home is by celebrating with new friends, new neighbors, and new family.

This year, Syracuse University’s art and music histories department, with the South Asia Center and Hendricks Chapel, organized a lighting of the Sculpture Garden with luminaries, to bring to campus the brightness of what is called the Festival of Lights. Students, faculty, and families gathered to light up the garden and enjoy samosas, sweets and masala chai with each other. Here are some people from the celebration — and their stories and memories of Diwali.


Shriya Rawal, freshman, is from Dehradun, India and studies computer science. Photo by Saniya More.

Shriya Rawal, freshman, is from Dehradun, India and studies computer science. Photo by Saniya More.



“It’s a little upsetting to be away from my parents, but I have really good American friends here. They woke me up this morning and were like, ‘Happy Light Festival!’ I didn’t care that they didn’t know the name, just the fact that they wished me was enough! I feel so good now, I have samosas! I was waiting for this, and absolutely dragged everyone to this event.”

Rohit Manglik, first-year graduate, is from New Delhi and studies engineering management. Photo by Saniya More.


“I never expected I would be celebrating Diwali on campus, and I also didn’t expect I’d be having samosas and tea here either! The hardest part about being away from home is seeing pictures from India of people celebrating-- it’s weird for me being here alone in the U.S. Many of my friends are Indian, and we often have parties together to feel closer to home.” 


Shreya Sahdev, freshman, is from New Delhi, India and studies communication and rhetorical studies. Photo by Hanna Benavides.



“It’s definitely different. I’m used to more crowds and people around me that I know and family, but I like it. I get to meet new Indians here, and the food’s really good. I do miss my mom’s halwa and her puris and getting gifts, and being pampered by my grandparents, and the crackers-- it’s like everything. But it’s a new experience and I told myself I’ll have just as much fun even though I’m away from home.”


“My mom was asking me, “It’s Diwali, what are you going to do? First she asked me, are you bursting crackers? And I said no, it was not allowed. Then she told me to wear new clothes, that’s a tradition for us. I told her if I wear something new, I have to put a coat over it, so it’s no use! We couldn’t, kind of, do anything we used to do, but we had a small get-together within our Tamil students and it was fun.

We would have forgotten it was Diwali if not for events like this.”

Prasan Karthikeyan, first-year graduate, is from Chennai, India and studies information management. Photo by Hanna Benavides.


Nikita Kakani, freshman, is from Indore, India and studies marketing management. Photo by Hanna Benavides.



“It’s like, the world is flipped. It’s entirely different. People dress differently, talk differently, behave differently. Events like these bring me closer to the Indian community, and I like to meet new people so it’s a great way to do that.”


Sushant Jhingan, first-year graduate student, is from Amristar, India and studies computer science. Photo by Hanna Benavides.



“It’s my first time in the states. It is pollution-free — we can see the stars at night! It’s always a hard thing though, it’s the first time I’m away from my place during a festival season. Whenever it’s Diwali, I take 15 days off work and college and celebrate. But I like this place, this ambience over here. I didn’t know such things happen over here, but it feels really good.”

Ashik Liyakathali, first-year graduate, is from Chennai, India and studies science and information management. Photo by Hanna Benavides.


“Crackers were my favorite part of Diwali. But slowly, the feeling of wanting to burst crackers faded away. When we were children, that was the best feeling — bursting crackers. As we grew up, we would just go up to the terrace with our families and watch the skyscraper fireworks.

We celebrated with our neighbours. Since I’m a Muslim, we don’t celebrate officially, but all the people in the street celebrate, so it’s a celebration for me as well. Here, celebrating our festivals far away from our country is special in itself.”


Joanne Waghorn is a professor at Syracuse University and teaches religion. She has been teaching for more than three decades, previously taught Hinduism at University of North Carolina. Photo by Hanna Benavides.



“What I was thinking about with Diwali or Deepavali was... I spent a lot of time in Singapore, where it’s a big, government-sponsored celebration. It’s a national holiday. All of Little India is lit up fabulously. It’s incredible. It’s becoming a national Hindu holiday all around the world. When I was first in Madras in the 1960s, it wasn’t a big deal in South India. Now of course, it’s becoming more and more important in South India and all over the world.”

Saniya More, a junior at Newhouse, speaks five languages and squeals over every dog she meets. She enjoys capturing candid yet poised photos of everyone she meets. If she’s not juggling news wraps, internships and homework in organised chaos, she can be found cooking up a mean Thai dinner.

Divya Murthy, a junior at Newhouse, is a tiny bespectacled blot on the orange landscape of Syracuse University. She is under the impression that she's the fourth PowerPuff Girl, but when she's not using her creativity thus, she enjoys drinking filter coffee, reading Wodehouse novels and imagining life without the pumpkin spice latte.