Diwali celebration brings light and warmth to Fairbanks

Lakeidra Chavis/Sun Star Reporter
Nov. 5, 2013

Ph.D. Space Physics Student Susmita Hazra breaks it down on the dance floor at the end of the night on Saturday, Nov. 2. Elika Roohi/Sun Star

Ph.D. Space Physics Student Susmita Hazra breaks it down on the dance floor at the end of the night on Saturday, Nov. 2. Elika Roohi/Sun Star

Students, faculty, staff and members of the Fairbanks community came together and celebrated the 13th annual UAF Diwali festival last Saturday in the Wood Center Ballroom. The event was hosted by UAF club Namaste India, and some of the proceeds went to the United Way, a non-profit charity organization.

The event started at 6:30 p.m. when Namaste India club President Vamshi Avadhanula and club faculty advisor Shirish Patil gave opening remarks. UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers said that he was proud that the UAF and Fairbanks communities supported the celebration. “We’re better off because UAF is an international institution,” Rogers said.

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is the celebration of joy and prosperity and the triumph of good over evil. Diwali is the third day of a five-day Hindu celebration. One story of the origins of Diwali is the story of prince Rama. Rama was the son of the king, who had three wives and 12 children. When one of the king’s wives became jealous of Rama, fearing that he would become king instead of her son, Rama was banished from the kingdom for 14 years, along with his wife and brother.

During the 14 years, a demon fell in love with Rama but the love  was unrequited, and Rama cut off her nose. In retaliation, the demon’s husband kidnapped Rama’s wife. With the help of his brother, Rama defeated the demon king. When their 14 years of exile were over, they returned to the city. The city was lit up with lights and fireworks to welcome them home.

Each celebration is commenced by a prayer song. Veteran performer Sudha Naidu dedicated this year’s prayer to her father, who was never able to see her perform at UAF’s celebration.

After the prayer, Environmental Engineering Masters student Priyam Sharma and Summer Sessions Communications Specialist Charu Uppal presented a video explaining what Diwali is.

For 21-year-old Japanese Studies student Chelsea Paxton, the presentation helped her understand the celebration. “I had no idea what Diwali was, but then I was like, ‘I heard that story and now it makes sense,'” Paxton said.

Thirty-three-year-old Linguistics student Jason Harris said that he liked the event. “I’m enjoying it. The food is great [and] it has been informative,” Harris said. For Paxton and Harris, it was their first time attending the event.

After the presentation, guests were invited to dinner, which consisted of cafeteria-style serving. The food was prepared in the Hutchinson High School kitchen. The meal consisted of seven dinner items, ranging from butter chicken to matar paneer to onion pakora. The meal also included three small desserts. Volunteers worked from 6:30 a.m. until 1 p.m. preparing the dishes.

After dinner, Namaste India club members and some family members performed traditional Indian music, danced, sang and even rapped.

Twenty-two-year-old Mining Engineering graduate student Tara Prasad performed a flute solo.

“I haven’t, in a long while, attended a classical performance,” Uppal said. “When he was playing the flute, it was amazing.”

Prasad only began playing the flute a year ago, after someone left the instrument behind. “This is kind of a new part to me, this kind of Indian environment,” Prasad said.

Uppal said that she also enjoyed the fact that the celebration featured multilingual performances. Songs and prayers were spoken in different languages, such as traditional Hindi, Marathi and Bengali. Uppal said that the multilingualism was not something she remembered when she attended past years’ celebrations.

Patil stated that he was proud of this years’ festival. Patil, a Petroleum Engineering professor, has been the club’s advisor since 2001. “It was a great turnout,” Patil said, adding that this year had the biggest turnout ever and was the second year in a row that they have sold out. “I think the community is really engaged with this event.”

“We bring the culture from India to share with our friends and family here,” Patil said. “It’s kind of learning from each other.”

“It’s a sense of community, not just for us, but everybody involved,” Uppal said.

Nicole Molders, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, said that she thought this year’s celebration was awesome. “It’s always a surprise, the food was good [and] you meet a lot of friends,” Molders said.

Molders started attending the celebrations in 2003, after one of her Indian students introduced her to the celebration.

A portion of the proceeds went to the United Way. Tickets were $15 for adults and $10 for children.

Patil said that he hopes next year’s celebration will be even more successful.

“I think the value of tradition is when people understand a little better,” Uppal said.

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1 Response

  1. Charu Uppal says:

    Well done.

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