On October 15, Sudha Ramaswamy, Ph.D., Mercy College associate professor and chair of the Department of Special Education and Educational Leadership, organized a 2nd annual Diwali celebration in her town of Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. Ramaswamy worked in collaboration with the Mountain Lakes Public Library and Mountain Lakes South Asian community members to plan the event, which drew approximately 250 residents to Island Beach in Mountain Lakes. Mercy College professor, Wendy Mages, Ed.D., was invited by Ramaswamy to participate in the program. Mages brought her expertise as a storyteller and storytelling coach to the event. During the program, she told a children’s story about Diwali titled, “Archie Celebrates Diwali,” to many captivated audience members.
Attendees of the celebration included Mountain Lakes Deputy Mayor Khizar Sheikh, Chief of Police Shawn Bennett and Borough Council Member Lauren Barnett. The Mountain Lakes Public Library’s Roberts Fund sponsored the event. Performances were conducted by instrumental artist and Veena player Smrithi Mohan and Bharatanatyam dancer Roota Almeida.
Several activity tables were hosted by community volunteers who taught the town’s children how to paint “diyas” or clay lamps and make “rangoli” designs, a traditional Indian art form using colored sand or powder. Attendees were fully immersed in the cultural celebration and in learning Indian traditions.
As a follow up to the event, Ramaswamy sent her Mercy students in the School of Education a note describing the celebration, and her reasoning for leading such an effort. “I led this event because it was important for me to share this moment with my children and the children in my community,” said Ramaswamy. “When we model the value of cultural diversity to our children, we are helping them weave a narrative that ‘different is beautiful’. As educators, we have an important role to fulfill in our classrooms, schools and communities, and we ought to capture opportunities to teach about diversity.”
Diwali is known as "The Festival of Lights" and is one of the biggest national holidays in South Asia. The holiday is named from the row (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) that people traditionally light outside of their homes to symbolize the inner light that protects from spiritual darkness. Diwali follows the Hindu lunar calendar, and takes place in October or November, depending on the cycle of the moon each year. The highlight of the celebrations takes place on the third night of the festival, which is the darkest night of the lunar month. This year, Diwali takes place on October 24, 2022.