Bringing the world to a campus near you
This past week, Carnegie Mellon witnessed a plethora of cultural holidays from all over the globe. Students were able to celebrate the start of a new, colder season in their own traditional ways.
Last weekend, students gathered together to celebrate the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, in the University Center.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is usually held in late September or early October, on the 15th day of the eighth month in the Chinese calendar. Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean cultures all celebrate this popular harvest festival in their own ways. It is one of the most important holidays on the Chinese calendar and marks the end of the summer harvesting season.
Apart from being a harvest festival, this celebration also has a history of legend and myth surrounding it. The Chinese relate this day to the one on which a young girl, Chang’e, was lifted from the Earth and placed onto the moon. This story of how her fate came to be has many different versions and is a favorite among Chinese poets. Another legend associated with the moon is that of the Jade Rabbit. The Jade Rabbit is supposed to reside on the moon with Chang’e, and this myth seems to have sprung from the fact that the dark spots on the moon resemble the form of a rabbit.
Some traditional practices are used when celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival. Festival-goers indulge in delicious mooncakes — called yuebing in Mandarin — and pomelos, citrus fruits native to Southeast Asia. Popular Chinese mooncakes are small, rectangular, or circular, mildly sweet pastries that are filled with a moist lotus seed paste and surrounded by a thin crust that is made from the yolks of salted duck eggs. Parties are decorated with floating sky lanterns, autumn flowers, and traditional Asian dragon displays. People come together to celebrate the spring equinox and witness the moon at its biggest and brightest. While there are many ways of celebrating, the Asian communities are unified in their recognition of the holiday.
“In Korea,” Jeongyoon Yu, an undecided first-year in H&SS, said, “the concept of the Mid-Autumn Festival is much like the American Thanksgiving. Instead of the Chinese and Japanese mooncake, however, [Koreans] all gather together in our traditional clothes and make a large honey rice cake to be shared by the entire family.”
Last Friday, students at Carnegie Mellon University also celebrated the end of the summer harvest season in their own special way. Students gathered at the University Center for music, dancing, traditional Asian cuisine, and socializing. The party acted not only as a traditional Mid-Autumn Festival celebration, but also signified the start of a new academic season: fall.
“What I liked best about the festival,” Jing Jing Li, an undecided first year in H&SS, said, “was how inclusive it was. I didn’t feel as if any culture was excluded. It really was an all-Asian celebration.”
Students were also given a glimpse into the German Oktoberfest in the Schatz Dining Room on Sept. 24 when the kitchen staff served up some traditional German cuisine.
Oktoberfest is a 16-day festival held in Munich, Germany every year. It is one of the largest world celebrations, attracting some six million people every year.
It is safe to say that food and drink are huge components of Oktoberfest. During celebration, visitors dress up in traditional garb and eat vast amounts of traditional German food, including pork, sausage, chicken, pretzels, potatoes, pancakes, and dumplings.
But more than food, this German festival is about the great German beer. Oktoberfest is known for its giant beer mugs — steins — and almost endless supply of beer, and people from all over the country and world flock to Munich to enjoy some of the alcohol during this time.
The original Oktoberfest began in 1810 when the Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen celebrated their marriage. In 1819, Munich took responsibility for the festival and agreed that it would be celebrated every year without exception.
Reviews of the quality of food at the Schatz Oktoberfest varied, but overall students found the idea of a traditional German celebration on campus to be exciting and internationally interesting.
“I love it when campus recognizes international holidays,” Li
said. “It allows students to experience the world right here on
Dussehra and Diwali
Celebrations during this time are not restricted to East Asia and Germany; they extend to the country of India, as well. Diwali, the biggest Hindu festival, and also celebrated by Sikhs and Jains, falls during this time of the year. The dates vary every year according to the Hindu lunar calendar, and this year Diwali will be celebrated with its usual pomp and show on Oct. 17.
The reasoning behind celebrating Diwali, also called Deepavali, which literally means “festival of lights,” draws from an ancient Hindu epic, the Ramayana. The Ramayana tells the story of a young prince — Ram — who is exiled from his kingdom along with his beautiful wife Sita and loyal brother Lakshman, and is condemned to roam the forests for 14 years.
During their exile, Ravana, a 10-headed demon and the ruler of an island called Lanka — analogous to present day Sri Lanka — hears about Sita’s wondrous beauty and decides to kidnap her for himself. Once he succeeds, he brings Sita back with him to Lanka and keeps her prisoner in his vast palace gardens.
Overcome with grief, Ram summons all the help he can get, builds a bridge of stones to Lanka, and succeeds in defeating Ravana in a final battle. This day, on which good triumphed over evil, is a special one in Hindu mythology and is celebrated as Dussehra. This year, Dussehra was celebrated on Sept. 28, and roughly two weeks later, when Ram came home with his rescued wife, Diwali is celebrated to rejoice in his return.
The night of Ram’s return to his kingdom was a new moon night, causing the entire city to be cloaked in darkness. In order to brighten up the city, all the citizens of the kingdom lit lamps in their homes and lined their courtyards and windows with lights, making the city bright and beautiful. To this day, on Diwali, Hindus light lamps and celebrate Ram’s homecoming. They also burst firecrackers and set off fireworks — the Indian sky on Diwali night is a sight to behold.
The Sri Venkateswara temple in Pittsburgh has an annual Diwali celebration that is open for everyone to attend. They have delicious Indian food, sweets, dance performances, and firework displays — all the components of an enjoyable Diwali. OM, the spiritual organization for Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs, usually organizes a bus to transport students to the temple. Check their website at www.cmu-om.org/ for more information.
The legend of Ram and his journey is of such great importance to Hindus because Ram is considered to be a reincarnation of one of the three most important Hindu gods: Vishnu. Hinduism mainly worships three gods: Brahma, the creator; Vishnu, the sustainer; and Shiva, the destroyer. Vishnu is the people’s god and solves their problems and soothes their miseries. From time to time, he takes the form of a human or animal and comes to the Earth to directly influence the people. Ram is one of Vishnu’s most popular reincarnations.
Due to the vast number of gods in Hindu mythology, the festival of Dussehra has more than story behind its celebration. Like most cultures, the change of seasons has a significant impact on the festivals in Hinduism, and Hindus celebrate Navaratri, literally meaning “nine-day festival,” at the beginning of autumn every year. This festival, which culminates on a 10th day — Dussehra — celebrates the female goddess Durga, because she finally slays a demon she has been battling for nine days. Thus, in both traditions, Dussehra represents the triumph of good over evil.
Apart from the usual forms of celebration like visiting temples and distributing sweets, Navaratri is characterized by a popular form of Indian dance called garba. Garba originated in the western state of Gujarat, and during this festival, people get together and dance to catchy music.
The colorful dance forms of garba are not just seen in India, but here on our campus as well. Last Friday, OM organized their annual Navaratri Garba, giving a chance for the student body to take part in Hindu traditions.
Carnegie Mellon has a truly diverse population, and it is great to see a facet of every culture being celebrated here on campus. If you want to learn more about other countries and their customs, try to attend the events happening around campus — people are more than welcoming and are happy you want to learn about their traditions.