Indian Dance, Music, Shopping, Cuisine is a Huge Draw
By Geeta Goindi
Chantilly, Virginia, November 1, 2015 – For Indian-Americans in the Washington area, all roads led to the Dulles Expo Center this weekend as thousands thronged to partake in the Heritage India Festival – Diwali Extravaganza, a large-scale celebration heralding the Festival of Lights! For two days, the spacious, indoor Center bore a festive look as over 15,000 members of our community took in the sights and sounds of a ‘Mela’, the likes of which one would find in India.
Shishir Misra, proprietor of Rushhi Entertainment, Inc., and organizer of the event, was delighted with the response. “It was a great success”, he told us at INDIA THIS WEEK on Sunday evening as the festival was drawing to a close. “The crowd is almost double and we have a 30 percent increase in booths and vendors from last year. We have put an LED screen on the stage where we have some 450 kids performing over two days. It has turned out to be a buzzing and exciting event, one of the biggest shopping events on the east coast”, he said.
“We have added so much variety in terms of the vendors”, he stressed. Ours is primarily a shopping festival. There are about 200 booths this year. You add to that the stage performances, good food, it just changes the whole dimension”!
The festival, now in its fifteenth year, was earlier held outdoors on the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. Not always a good idea because as Rena Surana-Nirula, a member of the organizing committee, pointed out, “the weather can be dicey, so we moved it indoors”. Now, the event is being held at the Dulles Expo Center twice a year – during Mother’s Day weekend in Spring, and as a precursor to Diwali in the Fall.
Shopping was a huge attraction at the festival this weekend drawing scores of ladies who couldn’t seem to get enough of the traditional Indian wares. There was a lot of variety, more so the quality and exquisiteness of items caught the eye and imagination!
Morny Anand of Alexandria, VA, was one delighted shopper. A regular festival-goer who loves to avail of all the shopping opportunities it provides, she bought beautiful Indian ensembles from SAI Fashions which did brisk business.
“Heritage India Diwali Festival is the most anticipated and fun event of the year”, Morny gushed. “It truly brings alive the taste of India with fun cultural performances, along with glamorous Indian outfits and delicious food to boot! A shopping extravaganza for girls for sure”!
Bhavna Vanan, emcee and host of the cultural program, noted, “Diwali is one of the most vibrant times of the year. We have a lot of special performances from local dance groups doing Bollywood, Bhangra, classical and fusion styles”, she told us. “We also have a VIP guest today, Amir Ashraf, a local singer” who has performed on stage with Bollywood playback singers Sukhwinder Singh and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, among others, she added.
The Washington area dance schools that were represented at the festival included DC Metro Punjabi Arts Academy (DCMPAA), Bollywood Studio headed by Roma Dua, Nrityaki Dance Academy founded and directed by Shweta Misra, WDC Jaadu headed by Reema Kapani, Jhanak Dance Academy with artistic director Arpita Roy, Let’s Dance!, Beautiful Bollywood Dance Class, Lil’ Dancing Joy with choreographer Anusha Ramachandra, Arya Dance Academy with instructor Amrita Mudhar, and Jhann Jhan dance group.
A particularly riveting piece was a dance on women’s empowerment by students of Nrityaki, expertly choreographed by Shweta.
Joya Bhattacharyya, an exceedingly talented student and active performer of the Academy which specializes in the Kathak style, told us, “It follows the story of a young, very naive, girl growing up — how she learns to overcome adversity and obstacles and come out of them in a really strong way. We hope it inspires women and girls to be strong and look out for themselves”, she said. “We wanted to do a story-telling dance, so we did this dance on women’s empowerment because it is something that is very important to us”.
Regarding the dance style, Joya explained, “It’s a fusion dance with Kathak elements. In order to convey the story in an emotional light, we brought contemporary elements into the dance”.
We caught up with Tamanna Khan who was crowned Miss South Asia USA in a competition held in California, earlier in August. A resident of Haymarket, VA, Tamanna was sporting a Manish Malhotra outfit and mingling with the crowd at the festival.
“I think this event is wonderful”, she gushed. “It is my first time here. The love from everyone here to me is just amazing. It’s a really good experience, being on stage and talking to everyone. It’s just the most amazing event I’ve ever been to!”
On stage, Tamanna gave a speech on “how girls should go for their goals and never give up on their dreams”, followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience. “I also started giving up on my dream”, she told us. “You always get an opportunity. You have to push yourself and once you push yourself toward something you really want to do, you will accomplish it. Just sitting around won’t help. You have to work for what you want”, she said.
Rajinder Gahunia, a real estate agent based in Manassas, VA, was a member of the organizing committee in the initial years of the festival, and “so pleased” to see its exponential growth. “I am so glad to see this”, she said. “Keep it up”!
Manoj Singh, who organizes the annual DC South Asian Film Festival (DCSAFF) together with his wife Geeta, observed that the festival is “becoming more popular. This year, it seems to be more crowded”, he said, marveling at how the community has grown. “There are so many Indians who you never see. When you come here, you are amazed at the size of the community”.
He noted, “There is an excitement in the air because the festival of Diwali is coming. When you come here, it feels like that. It takes you back home to India, to the hustle-bustle, bazaar, people shopping. I think it’s a good thing for people to come here, whether you shop or not, and get a feel of the whole festival season”, he said.
For Geeta Singh, the highlight was shopping. “Here, it is all in one place”, she said. “In India, you have to go from place-to-place. Here, you have high-end, low-end – for all budgets”.
A unique feature at the festival was the fresh squeezed sugarcane juice by Mughal’s Oasis. In fact the food area was packed both days with long queues at all counters and standing room only. Among the food vendors were Rupa Vira’s The Signature, Punjabi By Nature, Madras Chopsticks, Bombay Foods, Hyderabadi Biryani Corner, Haldiram Sweets, and Dippin’ Dots Ice Cream also serving kulfi and mango lassi.
The event was an eye-opener for Americans who are not accustomed to Indian cuisine or culture. For Jason Roach who works at the Pentagon, it was his first time at the festival. “I like the different assortment of foods”, he told us. “Not being accustomed to Indian food, I can taste different things here”. He relished the sugarcane juice, mango lassi, and chole-bhature.
Jason was keenly observing the “Indian clothing, the sarees and different outfits, male versus female, what they wear”. About Indian jewelry, he found it “very unique. Everything is detailed”, he said.
Among the myriad sponsors and vendors of the event were: C2 Education, a global tutoring center with 150 locations worldwide; Western Union; TD Bank; YUPPTV; The Luxe Closet by designer Pallavi Darne; Atlanta-based Anokhi Ada, designer clothes and jewelry; New Jersey-based Citreen, Inc., clothing; Unique Touch, bangles and paintings; Indian Bridal Art; Netra Design Solutions, jewelry; Vismayam Designs, handmade exquisite clay jewelry; Nirvana Spaces, home decor; Anika Indian Wear; Sarovar Gifts; Alluring RT Facts; Firdaus Fashions; Siri’s Indian Ethnic; Tanya’s Collection, Indian designer clothes; and Anitya, scientific skin-care.
Misra declared, “The festival is here to stay! The Diwali Extravaganza this weekend has been really great. Everybody is happy. For us, our happiness comes from our vendors’ happiness and the fact that people are enjoying.
It’s so good that the community supports such events. That’s what keeps us going every year”, he said.