GW Cohosts a D.C. Diwali Celebration

The Sigur Center for Asian Studies welcomes Asian Americans for holiday festival.

Muriel Bowser
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser participates in GW's celebration of Diwali. (Photos: Logan Werlinger/GW Today)
November 11, 2016

By B. L. Wilson

A standing-room-only crowd, many of them in bright and richly embroidered Hindu clothing, filled the Milken Institute School of Public Health’s Convening Center, where the aroma of Asian spices wafted. 

The celebration of Diwali, the festival of light, Wednesday evening served as a counterpoint to a momentous post-election day. The event was co-sponsored by the D.C. Mayor’s Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs and the Sigur Center for Asian Studies.

Emcee Kishan Putta got things started by bringing to mind the words of the noted Indian pacifist Mahatma Gandhi: “When I despair, I remember that all throughout history the way of truth and love has always won.”

It was a theme reiterated throughout the evening. Benjamin Hopkins, associate professor of history and international affairs and the director of the Sigur Center, called attention to the inclusive nature of Diwali, or Deepavali, as it is also known, that is celebrated by Hindus, Christians, Farsis, Sikhs and Muslims.

“[That] is best personified by our own executive director of the Sigur Center, Deepa Ollapally, whose own South Indian Christian parents named her after the clay lamps,” he said.

Indian Americans are the largest group of Asian Americans in D.C., though a diverse group of Asian American and others were present from the D.C. government and George Washington University, including President Steven Knapp.

In observing the end of summer harvest holiday that is celebrated by one billion Hindus worldwide, D.C. Mayor Muriel Boswer (D) said, “Homes are lit up with bright beautiful lamps to remind us that light conquers darkness and hope conquers despair. It is also a time to reflect on the ways we can assist others and shine our own light into the world.”

She issued a proclamation declaring Nov. 9, 2016, as Diwali Day in the District of Columbia, saying that as mayor she has focused on making sure that all cultures are celebrated in the city.

With that Ms. Bowser lit the Deepavali lamp, as Sri Narayanachar, a Hindu priest from the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple chanted.

The Five Rigers dancers delighted the audience with an exuberant performance of Bhangra, a traditional Punjabi dance that has become increasingly popular throughout the western world.  Standup comedienne Vijai Nathan, who identifies as “a foreigner born in the suburbs just outside D.C.,” also entertained.

As the evening came to a close, and a line snaked around the room to partake of the meal, Dr. Knapp noted that the Diwali celebration “is always a very joyous event.”

“I felt the spirit here,” he said. “It’s a festival of light. It’s a festival of good fortune. I think it is a very important moment in the life of the Hindu community here, which is an important part of our student body.” 



President Knapp (r) welcomes standing-room only crowd to Diwali celebration of the festival of light on the Foggy Bottom Campus. With him are Kishan Putta (l), who emcee'd the event, and David Do, director of the mayor's Office on Asian and Pacific Affairs.