Festival of Lights: UAF celebrates culture and embraces diversity

Brix Hahn/Sun Star Reporter
October 30, 2012

Tanja Gens, age 11 and dressed in white, and Neeshi Hullavarad, age 12 and dressed in red, perform a dance to a song by Rama Dandekar at the the Diwali Celebration. Cordero Reid/Sun Star

Cultures were shared and traditions were passed down while students, families, friends and cultural enthusiasts gathered  in the Wood Center Ballroom to take part in a traditional Hindu evening of Indian dancing, food and spiritual awakening Saturday, Oct. 27.

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is a five-day celebration that honors the Hindu tradition of welcoming lights into homes and rejoicing in the triumph of good over evil. Over the last 10 years, Diwali has grown in to a holiday that is celebrated all across the United States.

UAF’s Namaste Indian Student Chapter hosted the event, which welcomed over 200 guests. Indians make up the second largest minority group on UAF’s campus.

Tickets were $15, but in the spirit of cultural awareness and welcoming, Namaste donated $2 from every ticket sold to UAF’s campaign for United Way of the Tanana Valley, an organization that provides humane services to families in the Fairbanks area.

“It’s particularly appropriate that we do it at a university because one of the things about the celebration is the celebration of inner light. It’s really the dispelling of ignorance by higher education,” said UAF Chancellor Brian Rogers.

The president of Namaste is Vamshi Avadhanula, and the group has approximately 55 members. Sixteen of the group members arrived at Shirish Patil’s home early Saturday morning to cook for the celebration.

Patil and his wife Anjali used to host Diwali in their home until the mid 2000’s, when so many people began attending that the event outgrew their dining room. After this, they changed venues and transformed the celebration into more of a community gathering that they opened up to friends, families and to the public.

“This whole idea of rejoicing in light is certainly important for us in Fairbanks as it starts getting darker,” Rogers said. “It’s really about rejoicing in the inner light of our being. It’s about people and the victory of good over evil.”

“It’s one of the most powerful things a university can do to diversify its student and facility population,” said UAF’s Vice Chancellor for University and Student Advancement, Mike Sfraga.

The celebration began with a prayer sung by Sudha Naidu, followed by dinner which offered several traditional Indian dishes such as matar paneer, aaloo and poori.

Following the dinner, 12-year-old Neeshi Hullavarad and 11-year-old Tanja Gens, both from the Fairbanks Indian community, performed a traditional Indian dance with guests. The young ladies were dawning traditional Indian saris and had bells tied to their ankles and bangles draping off their wrists.

The celebration closed with a song performed by Jabez Chinnam titled, “Give Me Some Sunshine” from the Indian film “3 Idiots.” Everyone danced not only to traditional and modern Indian songs, but also popular tunes like “Gangnam Style.”

Diwali is now celebrated annually by Namaste India as well as by several non-Indian Fairbanks community members. Although the event is not always held on campus, Namaste India does their best to keep the tradition open to the public and to share Indian culture with all of Fairbanks.


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1 Response

  1. its great to know that Namaste donated $2 from every ticket sold to UAF’s campaign for United Way of the Tanana Valley. thanks for sharing this news

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