Punjabi Mela Draws Thousands, Evokes Nostalgia
By Geeta Goindi
Centreville, Virginia, 2013 – It was a strong show of community spirit and Indian culture at the fourth annual Punjabi Mela, held Memorial Day weekend on the sprawling lawns of the Bull Run Regional Park in the Washington area. Setting a record of sorts for Indian-American festivals, it drew over 9,000 people from all walks of life.
It was a picture-perfect Sunday for an outdoor fair which, for so many people clad in colorful attire, evoked memories of Melas back home in India! Kudos to the organizer, IkPunjabi, which re-created scenes and sounds just like one would find in the Indian state of Punjab.
The Mela offered manifold attractions including: cultural performances by local and international artistes; stalls displaying traditional arts and crafts, attire and jewelry; delectable cuisine by local restaurants such as Bombay Café which drew long, winding queues; sports such as a ‘Kabaddi’ match and volleyball; and a spacious play area for kids.
Lending gravity to the event were Virginia elected officials and candidates including: Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic nominee in the 2013 gubernatorial election; State Senator Dick Black (Republican – District 13); Delegates David Ramadan (Republican – District 87), Jim LeMunyon (Republican – District 67), Barbara Comstock (Republican – District 34) and Tom Rust (Republican – District 86).
McAuliffe, accompanied by his young son, walked amidst the crowds, reaching out and greeting many festival-goers! He is a businessman and entrepreneur and has served as chairman of the Democratic Party. He told the gathering at the Mela that he is running for Governor of Virginia on a plank of jobs and economic development.
“As a young man, I started a business when I was 14 years old so that I could help pay for college”, he said. “I have been in many different businesses and as Governor, I want to make sure that we have the best environment for creating jobs, (spurring) economic activity, keeping your taxes low, making sure Virginia is the best place in the country to raise your children”.
On stage, Senator Black together with Delegates Ramadan and LeMunyon presented a copy of a joint Resolution by the Virginia Legislature, to the organizers of the Punjabi Mela, recognizing “the observance of Vaisakhi” in the Commonwealth which is celebrated by Sikhs “with parades, dancing, singing and other festivities”. The Resolution stated: “The Sikh community of Virginia, part of the rich cultural fabric of the Commonwealth, makes many valuable contributions as its members work in a variety of professions and businesses and contribute to their local communities”.
The text of the Resolution paid tribute to Sikhs who “have a renowned military history marked by gallantry and self-sacrifice that is epitomized by the heroic last stand at the Battle of Saragarhi” (1897), between the 36th Sikh Regiment, defending an army post, and 10,000 Afghan and Orakzai tribesmen. The 21 brave Sikhs did not abandon the fort. They died gallantly, one-by-one, delaying the attack so severely that the invading force was eventually repulsed.
Senator Black told the gathering, “I am very pleased to have passed this Resolution. Those of you who are among the Sikh community, it is a reminder to your children and grandchildren of the glorious and the grand military history and the courage of the Sikh people”.
Delegate Ramadan presented a House Resolution, to the organizers, commending ikPunjabi for its community service efforts. The text of the Resolution highlighted that it was presented “to ikPunjabi as an expression of the House of Delegates’ admiration for the organization’s commitment to sharing the Punjabi culture and contributions to those in need”.
The Resolution stated: “ikPunjabi, which means ‘one Punjabi’ helps facilitate and promote the culture, heritage and traditions of the Punjabi people in the Northern Virginia area … The Punjabi people have a rich cultural heritage that spans thousands of years and have deep passions for sharing, caring and daring … ikPunjabi brings together the Punjabi community to strengthen the sense of community, promote the Punjabi culture, and raise the awareness of the Punjabi culture and people in the community”.
Among the core team of ikPunjabi are Sunny Malhi and Raj Nijjar. They were joined by other organizers and volunteers – Harjot Goraya, Novteen Bajwa, Garry Dhaliwal, Sunny Sandhu, Loveleen Sharma, Simerdeep Nijjer, Jassimran Singh, Sahib Kaur, Diksha Sharma and Waleed Mahmood – in ensuring the grand success of the Punjabi Mela!
Sunny Malhi told us, at INDIA THIS WEEK, “We are one such organization that is not focused on any commercial or fame aspect”. He enumerated the philanthropic efforts of ikPunjabi which include: holding medical fairs and health camps; organizing a plane pull at Washington Dulles Airport to support the Special Olympics; raising funds for funeral services to help needy people; providing a medical and IT internship program; and encouraging youth leadership.
Delegate Jim LeMunyon told festival-goers that he represents “a District (67) in western Fairfax and eastern Loudoun County where one out of five people has come from another country and I am so proud to represent the immigrant community and particularly the Indian-American community in the Virginia House of Delegates. Thank you for all you are doing in participating in events like this”, he said. “Thank you for your advances in schools, civic and religious communities, because when the Indian-American community succeeds, we all succeed in Northern Virginia”.
Regarding the cultural performances – rich, vibrant and packed with energy – local groups and artistes included Dhiyan Punjab Diyan, DC Metro Punjabi Arts Academy (DCMPAA), Raj Nijjar, Mohan Bains, Jaswinder Saini, Aman Dhaliwal, Ricky Jatt and Sukhjinder Sidhu. Among the international performers were: Hardeep Gill, Canada; Kulwinder Kally and Gurlej Akhtar, India.
About the Punjabi Mela, Sunny Malhi pointed out that it is an “open air, alcohol-free, family event that provides a festive, cordial, inviting, inclusive and fun environment for all joining”.
He told us, “We want to start a tradition, fairly humble, to bring together all Punjabis in an inclusive setting to share and promote our culture. We will come together on one core aspect, ‘Punjabi’, with no demarcation by region or religion, with constant inspiration from our doyens and all elders”, he said. “There may be million different ways of looking at us, but underneath we are just one Punjabi – ikPunjabi”.