Diwali celebrations bring lights, culture to campus

Dancers at this year’s Diwali celebration which took place in the Wood Center Ballroom on Oct. 28. The celebration was hosted by the Namaste India student organization who’s goal is to promote Indian culture and heritage at UAF. Katie Stark / Sun Star

The Wood Center Ballroom transformed into a vision of South Asian culture on Saturday as hundreds of revelers gathered for the celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

“We are celebrating the removal of ignorance and spread of knowledge,” said Debamista Misra, advisor for the Namaste India Club, in his opening speech. “Light signifies that we are getting out of darkness and ignorance signifies darkness.”

Diwali, also known as Deepavali, is one of the biggest and holidays in India. Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs celebrate the “Festival of Lights” in India and across South Asia to mark the Hindu new year, which fell on Oct. 19 this year.

At the beginning of the event, UA President Jim Johnsen and his wife Mary Johnsen lit a diya lamp to mark the occasion in the company of Lily Misra, Misra’s wife. Small clay lamps filled with oil are lit to signify the triumph of good over evil, and the lights are kept on throughout the night. Other administrators gracing the event included the interim chancellor and provost, Mike Power and Susan Henrichs, respectively.

University of Alaska President Jim Johnsen (left) next to wife and former Director of Hospice of the Tanana Valley, Mary Johnsen, both taking part in the Hindu celebration of Diwali with Namaste India member Lily Misra. The celebration includes the lighting of candles as well as the performance of traditional Indian songs and dances. Sarah Azmi / Sun Star

With the event’s tagline “Food. Music. Dance.”, guests were treated with a variety of Indian dishes, a dazzling array of performances, and a myriad of traditional and popular Indian music.

The night boasted a lineup of amazing performances from students and children of faculty members. After a prayer to Goddess Durga to start the event, attendees were then presented with the children’s presentation of the rhythmic tale of Lord Krishna, along with several dances and song performances, before giving way to an open dance floor to cap the night.

The event’s fare was a mix of North and South Indian food. The menu included Puri, Indian flat bread, and lemon rice served with Paneer Matar Masala, a thick and creamy chickpea and paneer dish, Chole Masala, a cooked and seasoned chickpea curry, and chicken curry.

The desserts available were equally impressive, with items such as Besan Laddu, a sugary treat made from gram flour, ricotta cheese Burfi, a milk-based sweet, and Suji Halwa, a traditional Indian pudding made with ghee and dried fruits. It was a delight to sample the delicious food, courtesy of the hard work of the students and the Indian community.

“[We] try to recreate the atmosphere so that [everyone] can enjoy the culture and get a glimpse of it. Since Indian food is very popular, we have Indian food and performances that reflect our culture and how we celebrate. It’s how we come together,” said Yojana Gurav, Vice President of Namaste India.

Namaste India is a non-profit student organization that seeks to promote Indian culture and heritage at UAF and in the city of Fairbanks. The Diwali celebration is one of the \events on campus and the biggest event of the year for Namaste India. Tickets for the event were sold out a week prior; planning for the event began in August.

“We are grateful to everyone for showing up,” expressed Ashish Agrawal, a volunteer for the event. “We enjoy sharing our culture and tradition with everybody.”

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