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Students gather to celebrate Diwali at Penn Hindu & Jain Association event – The Daily Pennsylvanian

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Around 250 people attended the Penn Hindu & Jain Association’s annual Diwali celebration last Friday.
The celebration began with a religious ceremony and an introduction by HJA’s spirituality chair, followed by catered Indian food, while a DJ played a mix of Bollywood and English music. The Nov. 4 event took place in the Hall of Flags in Houston Hall.


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The pandit — a Hindu priest — began the celebrations with the puja, a moment of prayer involving physical components for each attendee, such as pouring water from one recipient into the other, covering a coin with rice, and other activities. 
Nursing junior and HJA Co-President Nikita Patel said that attendees enjoyed the food that the organization catered. While mostly Indian Americans and international students from India gathered for the event, it was open to anybody who wanted to learn about Diwali and the celebrations, Patel said.

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Engineering sophomore Saraswati Sridhar, who attended the Diwali celebration, said that she enjoyed the festivities because they provide a familiar community.
“[The Diwali celebrations] provide a really good opportunity to find people just like me and to find a community,” Sridhar said.

The event demanded a lot of preparation, according to Patel. Club members coordinated volunteers, gathered all the materials needed for the puja, and created the decoration in the Hall of Flags. The HJA presidents said that the Penn Spiritual and Religious Life Center was highly involved and helpful during the preparations by providing guidance for funding, the reservation of the venue, and catering. 
Diwali has been celebrated by HJA since the organization was founded at Penn in 1999. Also known as the “festival of lights,” Diwali is celebrated by many Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs. Widely associated with Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of prosperity, and Ganesh, the Hindu god of wisdom and the remover of obstacles, Diwali also marks the end of the Vikram Samvat calendar.
“We light our houses as a way to welcome her [Lakshmi] into your homes. It is a way to say we are thankful for what she has given us over the year,” Hanshita Rongali, a graduate student in environmental studies who attended the event, said.
HJA holds events throughout the year, with the main ones being Garba, Diwali, and Garbhangra. The association also welcomes its members and as well as new guests to join in regular meetings every Tuesday to participate in spiritual activities and talks, such as a presentation of intersectionality in Jainism, Patel said. 
Patel said that HJA creates a safe space to explore Hindu spirituality for anyone who wants to discover it. HJA aims to be an open environment to join, whether it would be for the religious and spiritual aspect or the social and cultural one. The goal is to do more outreach and welcome anyone who wants to be a part of the community, Engineering and Wharton senior and HJA Co-President Arushi Aggarwal said. 

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