A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Diwali – from Deepavali – or the ‘festival of lights’ made its belated arrival in Leiden last week. It is one of the biggest and most important festivals in India, celebrated in the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin, which happened to be 3rd November this year. Different regions have different stories and traditions, but the common idea is one of victory of good over evil, of light over darkness and it is celebrated by lighting diyas or clay lamps and bursting firecrackers to drive away evil.
In Leiden, this festival was celebrated with all its fanfare at an event organised on behalf of LIAS and the South and Southeast Asian Society. The ceremonies were started by our very own pandit reading out a few Sanskrit shlokas from the Mahabharata and the Skanda Purana and explaining the mythology behind the lighting of lamps, lighting one himself after that.
Then began the mingling as the colourful gathering of lecturers, students, and others (some flaunting their finest Kanchipuram silks and others their kurta-pyjamas) representing India or fascinated by its culture coalesced into little groups with their snacks and drinks. The sight of pakoras, samosas, and boondi laddoos, and the exotic aura around them, did indeed make the memory grow fonder. What soon followed was a dance performance by a trained artiste who had been brought in for the evening. Dancing to Bollywood music, the dancer kept us enchanted by his fluid movements, the complexity of which was duly appreciated by our iconographer, who traced the movements way back to Bharatamuni’s 2nd century treatise, the Natyashastra. Then we had some live Punjabi dhol music to get the gathering in a festive mood. And they did indeed, swinging to the bhangra beats!
We departed with a small diwali present – a beautifully wrapped diya! Clearly much thought had been put into this much anticipated evening. All in all it was a nice relaxing evening and everyone seemed pleased with the conversation, the dance, music, the snacks and the general festive atmosphere.