Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 46
 
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
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University Chapel Glows and Resounds With Joyful Celebration of the Diwali Holiday

Ellen Gilbert

The ancient traditions of friendship, fellowship, and shared prayer have a great deal to say to people in the 21st century, according Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of London in The Dignity of Difference. The possibility of being made a better person in the presence of others was very much in evidence at the Princeton University Chapel this weekend, when Diwali, a harvest festival considered to be the most important holiday on the Hindu calendar, was celebrated with devotional music, sacred readings, classical Indian dance, and a traditional Hindu worship service.

An array of candles invited those approaching to enter the chapel, where participants were invited to offer a diya (candle) and observe a personal moment of prayer, reflection, or contemplation before taking their seats. Young and old, they proceeded to and from a sparkling altar at the front of the chapel.

Coordinator for Hindu Life Vineet Chander expressed pleasure in being in this “shared, sacred space,” which he described as the historical “heart of Princeton’s spiritual life.” By “embracing diversity,” he observed, Princeton becomes “a place for everyone.”

From kirtan (devotional chanting) to dipam (the ceremonial lighting of the lamp), to nrtyanjali (expressions of devotion through dance), the evening was filled with the sounds of voices, bells, and other musical instruments playing Eastern and Western music. A particularly moving rendition of “Sita Ram, Sita Rama” featured the Princeton University Chapel Choir. Gaura Vani’s singing alternating with the sound of the choir was used to beautiful effect, eventually rousing the entire audience to chant and clap along. Kalamandir Dance Company member Donia Dhanya Salem’s offering of Mangalacharn: Ganga Taranga performed in the Odissi style was executed with precision and grace, and Bala Devi Chandrashekar, the artist in residence at the University’s Carl A. Fields Center for Equality and Cultural Understanding, performed a dance drama that paired classical Indian dance form with a composition by Tchaikovsky.

The event also included devotional performances by students who study Indian classical music and dance, and by Princeton professor of mathematics Manjul Bhargava who played the tabla.

In his pravachan (reflection on sacred texts), Mr. Chander described how his fearfulness as he accompanied his sick daughter to a hospital emergency room recently was dispelled by a sudden, acute awareness of “the light of Krishna.” It was good to share that light with many different people on Saturday evening.

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