Kaufman Interfaith Institute celebrates Diwali

By Dan Goubert | 11/1/15 9:36pm

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GVL / Sara Carte People celebrate the religious tradition of the Aarti at the Interfaith Diwali Celebration at the Fountain Street Church on Oct. 30.

by Sara Carte / Grand Valley Lanthorn

As Halloween passes by, and as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve and more may all be on the mind’s of Grand Valley State University students, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute is hoping to open students’ eyes to another holiday worth looking forward to.

Members of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, the West Michigan Hindu Temple and the Grand Rapids community gathered at Fountain Street Church to celebrate the annual Hindu festival of Diwali on Oct. 30.

Sara Carte

GVL / Sara Carte Fred Stella (left) and Reverend Fred Wooden (right) talk about their trips to India at the Interfaith Diwali Celebration at the Fountain Street Church on Oct. 30.

The celebration was just one of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute’s many events. Previous events have included trips to Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques that promote interaction between different faiths, as well as awareness of different cultures.

Fred Stella, an advisory board member of the institute and an ordained outreach minister in the West Michigan Hindu Temple, said his trip to India provided an opportunity to absorb other cultures.

Diwali is a five-day Hindu “festival of lights” that involves numerous activities including prayer, food, song and fireworks. Lanterns are lit, generally on the night of a new moon, to celebrate and give thanks for health, wealth, knowledge and peace. In India, Diwali is one of the largest festivals of the year.

During the Fountain Street Church’s celebration, members of the West Michigan Hindu Temple performed traditional Indian songs and dances, while Grand Rapids’ Palace of India restaurant catered a dinner consisting of many dishes like samosas and naan.

As Stella led a Hindu chant, Fountain Street Church’s Reverend Fred Wooden lit a candle for the customary Aarti offering.

Chandran said that the lighting of candles and lamps during Diwali is symbolic of the celebration’s theme.

“By lighting that lamp, we’re trying to defeat the evil and bring up the goodness. What the ultimate effect is? Hope,” she said. “We’re all human beings, we all may have done some mistakes. What we hope is that on that particular day, by lighting the lamp, we’re bringing up a beautiful new future that next day. That is what Diwali is all about.”

All visitors were then invited to participate in the Aarti, as well. GVSU allied health sciences student Rachel Paris said she would use her Diwali experience in her life on campus and in her career.

“I feel like it really benefited me in learning about other people’s cultures,” Paris said. “In the world of diversity right now, there are a lot of people from different faiths. You do need to be conscious of that. As a Resident Assistant, I feel like I can better connect to one of my residents or my future patients who may be (of a different faith).”

Stella said attending a Diwali celebration could be especially helpful for students like Paris.

“The world is getting so small, that a well-rounded, educated student cannot afford to pass up opportunities like this,” Stella said. “Chances are, in the very near future, you’re going to be either working with someone of a different religion, such as Hinduism, or you’re going to be working for someone of a different religion.

“To be able to get the basics down so you don’t look like a complete idiot the first time you have a conversation about religion, it’s a tremendous opportunity. I believe you’ll be just that much more competitive, just because you’ve exposed yourself to that.”

Suganthi Sridhar, an executive board member of the West Michigan Hindu Temple and GVSU associate professor, said this cultural awareness has benefits on a grander context.

“Most of the time ignorance is what creates a lot of animosity,” Sridhar said. “If you’re aware about other cultures and other religions and what is happening then I think it will be a more peaceful world.”

For those interested in learning more about Diwali, the Padnos International Center will be hosting an International Faculty and Friends Diwali event on Nov. 19. More information can be found online at www.gvsu.edu/pic.

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