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Patrick Springer, Published November 03 2013

Local India natives celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights

FARGO – Saravana “Sam” Rangaswamy feels a little closer to his native India every year when people gather to celebrate Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.

“It’s a victory of good over evil,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

It’s also all about gathering with family and friends and enjoying a good meal. That’s where Rangaswamy has an important role, as proprietor of Passage to India, one of Fargo’s Indian restaurants.

His restaurant and India Palace served as gathering places Sunday as Indians and others met to feast over buffet spreads in celebration of Diwali.

“Every family enjoys it,” Rangaswamy said, “whether rich or poor.”

Diwali is India’s biggest and most important holiday, with feasting, gift exchanges and fireworks to mark the occasion.

Different regions of India celebrate Diwali a bit differently, commemorating struggles of different gods, but all have as their common theme the triumph of good over evil.

“It’s much like Christmas here,” said Manish Chawla, the chef at Passage to India, who was taking a midday break after rising early this morning to prepare the elaborate buffet.

The restaurant was decorated with icicle Christmas lights strung near the ceiling, and lights ornamented hanging plants. The air was fragrant with curry and other spices.

“Light is life,” Chawla said. “Light is spiritual.”

The word Diwali, in fact, is derived from the words for a row – “avali” – of clay lamps – “deepa” – that Indians array outside their homes to represent the inner light that protects against spiritual darkness.

Deepali Thakkar, who is studying nursing at North Dakota State University, wore a traditional garments, salwaar and kameez, for the Diwali feast.

She was at a table of eight Indian students at NDSU and alums who gathered at the restaurant Sunday to observe the holiday.

“Back home I remember it used to be a big thing,” said Ramesh Singh, who studied computer science at NDSU and works at Microsoft.

A few blocks away, at India Palace, a similar gathering of students from the University of North Dakota drove down from Grand Forks for some native cuisine.

Mohammed Apu, although a Muslim, joined his Hindu friends. All of India, regardless of faith, celebrates Diwali, he said.

“It’s our country’s culture,” he said.

Debabrata “Dave” Tghosh, a UND engineering student, and his wife, Soumita, studying for a master’s of business administration, welcomed the chance to dine on familiar foods, including a chicken curry dish.

“It’s feeling a little bit like home,” he said. Gesturing to the buffet spread, he added, “This is the closest thing.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522