RoundupReads Johnson Celebrates Diwali Dhamaka: Festival of Lights

Johnson Celebrates Diwali Dhamaka: Festival of Lights

by Sumer Loggins | 2023-11-28

Diwali, known as the festival of lights, symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. It is the largest Hindu festival celebrated by Indians worldwide. NASA’s Johnson Space Center marked its first-ever Diwali celebration on November 14, 2023. The event included a ceremonial lighting of diyas (oil lamps), a speech by Goddard Space Flight Center Director Dr. Makenzie B. Lystrup, an introduction video about Diwali, and a captivating dance performance held in the Teague Auditorium.

A person dressed in ceremonial clothing next to colorful bright lights shaped like a lotus on the ground.


The festivities continued with a jugalbandi, a traditional Indian classical music performance featuring the table and sitar, as well as a flute performance, a fashion show, and a spread of Diwali food and snacks. Anima Sabale, private astronaut mission integrator for the International Space Station Program, spearheaded the conception, planning, and organization of the event with support from Sunita Chotai, Hemanth Koralla, Ami Killeen, and Sarah Faron from Johnson’s Asians Succeeding in Innovation and Aerospace Employee Resource Group. 

A group of seven people dressed in matched orange and red ceremonial gowns pose for a photo in front of a blue background and NASA logo.
The dance team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center Diwali celebration on November 14, 2023 in the Teague Auditorium. From left to right are Pearly Pandya, business development manager for in-space solutions at Axiom Space; Megan Harvey and Claire Hensley, flight controllers in Johnson’s FOD (Flight Operations Directorate); Anima Sabale, private astronaut mission integrator for the International Space Station Program; Traci Charles, private astronaut mission integration and requirements lead; Irene Chan, International Space Station and Moon to Mars Program flight planning engineer; and Summer Lee, FOD technical writer.

Sabale's vision behind organizing the group dances was to foster unity among colleagues by sharing culture, music, costumes, and the festive spirit. The event created a joyful and memorable experience while teaching Johnson employees various dance forms to Bollywood songs that represented different regions of India. A team of engineers and flight controllers invested time and effort in learning dances to lyrics that brought this vision to life. “Their dedication and passion showed on stage when they delivered two brilliant performances,” said Sabale. “They inspired several folks in the audience to participate next year. I am already looking forward to it!” 


Two people with instruments smiling and sitting in front of a blue background and NASA logo.
Rahul Venkataraman, spacecraft systems engineer for the Mission Systems Division (left), and his partner (right) delivered a classical music performance on the tabla and sitar.

The audience was introduced to traditional instruments used in India for centuries. The opening performance, or alaap, introduced the melody, or raga, followed by the tabla in a harmonious composition known as gat.

Kathak, a prominent dance originating from North India, was performed by Suparna Paul, deputy manager of the Space Food Systems Laboratory. Kathak is known for its intricate footwork, which moves to the beat of small metallic bells strung together on anklets worn by the dancers. The performance showcased swift spins and fluid body movements and expressions. 

A person in a blue and purple dress dancing in front of a blue background and NASA logo.
Suparna Paul, deputy manager of the Space Food Systems Laboratory, performs an Indian classical dance form, Kathak, in Johnson’s Teague Auditorium. 
A person in a maroon and tan dress holding a tan satchel in front of a blue background and NASA logo.
Alicia Baker, project engineer for Johnson’s Crew and Thermal Systems Division, delivered a flute rendition of the song “Tu Hi Meri Shab Hai, Subah Hai (You are My Night, You are My Day)” from the Bollywood movie "Gangster, A Love Story.”


The event concluded with a fashion show and a special invitation for everyone, including the audience, to showcase their traditional attire and walk the ramp together. Afterward, colleagues gathered in the hallway to enjoy curries, sweets, and Diwali snacks.

A group of people gathered in an auditorium holding plates of food.
Johnson employees enjoy food in the Teague lobby to conclude the Diwali celebration.

“I would like to give a special thanks to Joel Grant, our Gilruth Center fitness manager, to Kotesh Rao for lending his projector, and to Jayesh Sanchorawala for lending special lights for the fashion show,” said Sabale. “The Diwali celebration would not be possible without everyone who lent a helping hand before and throughout the event.” 

A group of ten people dressed in costumes in front of a blue background with a NASA logo.

Seven people dressed in red and orange gowns take a selfie in front of a blue background.