FAQ

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

FAQ ABOUT DIWALI AT THE CHAPEL 2021

Q: Who is able to attend DATC 2021?

A: We are delighted to once again open up this town-and-gown celebration to the wider community along with our students, faculty, and staff. All those attending or participating in Diwali at the Chapel 2021 must be FULLY VACCINATED. (The university defines fully vaccinated as at least two weeks removed from one’s final dose.) Unvaccinated individuals may not attend. In addition, as per university regulations, no child under the age of 12 may enter university buildings. Visitors must attest to being fully vaccinated and pre-register before attending. These policies will be strictly enforced without exception.

Q: Will other Covid-19 protocol be required of attendees who are vaccinated?

A: Again, our expectation is that ALL attendees will be vaccinated. In addition, in line with the university’s guidelines and mandates, all attendees will be required to wear a face mask throughout the duration of the event and at all times while indoors. (Presenters may temporarily remove their masks while presenting or speaking.)  Additionally, we encourage attendees to make the most of the spaciousness of the Chapel and to practice social distance as far as possible. Hand sanitizer will be made available, and we encourage participants to sanitize hands before and after touching shared surfaces.

Q: What else will be different about this year’s celebration?

A: In light of the ongoing challenges with combating Covid-19, we have intentionally chosen to simplify and shorten this year’s program. For instance, in lieu of hosting a special guest presenter as we have done in years past, we are focusing on presenting devotional offerings from Princeton university students and staff this year. Wearing a mask for long periods of time can be exhausting, so we are aiming to offer a shorter celebration. We also understand that the policies around who can attend will likely mean a slightly reduced turnout. While we generally love to see big crowds in attendance at DATC, this year we hope to realize a smaller gathering that is held in the safest way possible.

GENERAL FAQ

Q: What is Diwali?

A: Diwali (also known as Deepavali, which means “a row of lights”) is the Hindu festival of lights celebrated every year on the darkest, new moon night of the lunar month known as Kartika (this generally occurs at some point between mid-October mid-November).. Learn more about the holiday of Diwali here.

Q: What can I expect at this celebration?

A: At the start of the event, we encourage you to light a tea-light candle in a traditional clay diya holder and enjoy a moment of personal reflection or prayer. You may then choose an available seat in the Chapel’s pews. Once the majority of our guests have gathered, we invite a special guest—generally an executive leader or faculty member of the University—to light the main ceremonial lamp and officially inaugurate our celebration. Throughout the evening, students and special guest artistes will present traditional dance, as well as spiritual music and devotional chants (bhajan and kirtan), in a spirit of making sacred offerings. A number of students will share short reflections, highlighting the spiritual and cultural significance of the holiday for them. Hindu Life Program coordinator Vineet Chander will offer a short talk (pravachan) on the spiritual significance of the holiday. Together, students and special guests will lead a traditional Hindu worship service (aarti) accompanied by the singing of a traditional devotional song—we invite you to stand, if you are able, and sing along. The evening ends with a benediction of peace, and the distribution of small packets of prasad (sanctified food) as you exit the Chapel. The event generally runs until about 9pm.

Q: What should I keep in mind while attending the celebration in order to be a good guest? 

A: The mood of attending a Hindu worship or festival is generally one of acceptance and celebrating diversity. In other words, be yourself and come as you are! Of course, to be respectful, wearing modest clothing would be most appropriate. Many guests enjoy dressing up in traditional Indian attire or formalwear in the spirit of the festivities, but this is not mandatory or expected.

Photography and some videography (e.g. clips via a smartphone) is permitted, but please maintain a respectful distance from presenters and be aware that flash photography can be distracting.

Because of the nature of the venue, we ask that you maintain silence (except when singling along!) as far as possible during the celebration; sound travels and bounces around the high vaulted ceilings of the Chapel, and extraneous noise detracts from the spiritual experience. Please turn of your mobile phones or switch them on to silent. Please make arrangements to take infants or small children who are prone to making noise out of the Chapel as soon as possible should that become necessary. If you must arrive late or leave early, please feel free to do so in the quietest and most respectful way possible.

Please be aware that there is strictly no eating or drinking allowed in the Chapel.

Q: Is this event kid-friendly?

A: We love for you to bring your little ones to the celebration, and have found that children of all ages enjoy the festivities. We would especially encourage you to bring your kids if they have an interest in Indian dance and music—they will be delighted and inspired to see the presentations offered by our student performers and special guest presenters.

At the same time, we realize that this event is not right for all kids. We ask that parents keep in mind that the event is not a Diwali “party” or even a typical Diwai celebration that one might find in a temple or cultural center. There are no set activities for kids and absolutely no firecrackers or sparklers. Because of the nature of the venue, and the fact that we have open flames and delicate decor, it is not permissible for kids (or adults) to run around or move from one place to the other during the celebration. Food and drink are not permitted in the Chapel and restrooms are located on the lower level. Again, please make arrangements to take infants or small children who are prone to making noise out of the Chapel as soon as possible should that become necessary. Finally, please be aware that children must be supervised at all times and that parents must accept full responsibility for their children throughout the duration of the event.

Q: Why don’t you celebrate on the actual day of Diwali, or in a more traditional way?

A: We appreciate that most Hindus prefer to spend the actual day of Diwali—which differs from year to year, based on the lunar calendar—with close family and friends, or attending traditional gatherings at their local mandir (temple). Each year, the Hindu Life Program hosts a gathering for undergraduate and graduate students on campus on the actual day of Diwali. At this gathering, we try to create a “home away from home” and celebrate in a way that is intentionally more reminiscent of the way many students celebrate with their own families. We sing together, worship together, play games and make crafts, and share a meal accompanied by plenty of sweets.

Diwali at the Chapel, on the other hand, is not meant to replicate traditional Diwali observances or take their place, but serve as its own wonderful celebration of Hindu culture, artistry, and devotion. We hold the event on a Saturday in early November each year to allow for the most students, faculty, staff, and community members as possible to come together and share this joyous occasion.

Q: Why is the event at a chapel? Is this a Christian event?

A: Diwali at the Chapel is sponsored by the Hindu Life Program, which is a part of the Office of Religious Life, and Princeton University’s Hindu student group (called the Princeton Hindu Satsangam). It is a Hindu event, organized by a Hindu program director and Hindu students. While the Chapel certainly has Christian roots and remains a vital house of worship for Protestant Christians and Catholics at Princeton, it has also grown to become a multi-faith space. Holding this celebration at the Chapel is not an attempt to “Christian-ize” Diwali; rather, it is a reflection of how Princeton University and its Chapel have evolved to become a place for people of all faiths (and no faith in particular) to experience Divinity and beauty.

Why the Chapel? Since the initial idea was conceived of in 2008 (the year the Hindu Life Program started), the vision for this celebration has been to observe Diwali in a uniquely Princeton fashion. The Chapel serves as the center of spiritual and religious life at the university, and so we think it appropriate that this special building host a celebration of one of Hinduism’s most beloved and important holidays. In addition, the architecture and design of the Chapel makes it one of the most stunning and awe-inspiring structures on campus; during Diwali at the Chapel, the natural beauty of the Chapel is complimented by a small and tasteful touch of traditional Indian decor to create a beautiful meeting of two cultures. We regard the Chapel as shared, sacred space on campus and feel that it is a fitting home for this celebration.

Q: Why does so much of the celebration revolve around music and dance? Is this a stage show or cultural expo?

A: In Hindu traditions, spirituality is often expressed through the arts—iconography, poetry, music, singing, dance, and drama, to name but a few. In fact, one devotional text poetically refers to the spiritual realm as that place where “every word is a song, and every step a dance.” Diwali at the Chapel takes this idea as its central vision. We seek to host a celebration in which the beauty and excitement of the arts is engaged in a spirit of devotion and in service of creating a spiritually moving and inspiring experience.

While there is certainly a performative aspect to the artistry at Diwali at the Chapel, and while we are incredibly proud of the talents of our presenters, we don’t consider this event a “show”. Truly speaking, there are no performers or performances. Instead, our student and guest artists make devotional offerings in the form of artistic presentations and share them with us all in a spirit of community.

Of course, we want to reciprocate with the enthusiasm and talents of our presenters, so we encourage you to applaud, cheer, and—when appropriate—clap and sing along! At the same time, we invite you to be present in the mood of participating in a shared spiritual experience rather than merely observing a show as an audience member.

Q:  How can I (or my children) participate as presenters?

A: While we definitely appreciate the enthusiasm, we are not able to hold open auditions or invite participation from the community. Each year, we work with student performance groups and individual students on campus to determine who might share presentations at the event. We also connect directly with special guest artists who understand the mood and vision of the event, and whom we feel comfortable hosting. If you would like to recommend a particular guest artist, feel free to email us with links to a website or social media site and contact information. Please bear in mind that the decision is ultimately made by the organizers of the celebration.

Of course, for those inspired to help, we are so grateful for your contributions. Please connect with us about supporting DATC today.

Q: I have more questions. Who should I reach out to?

A: Drop us an email at hindu@princeton.edu, and we’ll try our best to get back to you soon with more information or to point you in the right direction.

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