Diwali Mela Draws Thousands in Washington Area

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Supremely talented artistes of Kalavaridhi Dance School, founded and directed by Sheela Ramanath (center), performing Indian classical dances in the Bharatanatyam style at the 19th annual Diwali Mela organized by the Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples (UHJT) of the metropolitan Washington area

FedEx Field is transformed into a Fair reminiscent of India

By Geeta Goindi

Landover, Maryland, October 5, 2013 – Thousands of people dressed in colorful Indian attire thronged to the cavernous FedEx Field on a warm and balmy Saturday to enjoy the sights and sounds of the largest Diwali Mela in the national capital region and beyond. Ever-popular, the event was held for the nineteenth consecutive year and represented a concerted effort of the United Hindu and Jain Temples (UHJT) of metropolitan Washington.

The salient features of the sprawling spectacle are: an all-day cultural show; Lakshmi Puja for love, peace, happiness, wealth and well-being; food stalls offering delectable cuisine from different states of India; vendors displaying handicrafts, Indian clothing, jewelry and myriad items of the festive season. It culminates on a vibrant and sparkling note with Raas, Garba, Bhangra and fireworks.

This year was no exception! For one full day, the home of the Washington Redskins was transformed into a Mela reminiscent of the ones in India.

Vasanthi Aharam, who headed UHJT’s Diwali Mela Committee this year, noted that “nowhere else can one see a festival celebrated in unison by people of different faiths hailing from all parts of India. Children, along with their parents, participate with enthusiasm and a zeal that is unmatched”, she said. “This festival spreads positive vibrations to everyone alike. In a world blemished by violence and acts of terrorism, Diwali gives all of us the opportunity to celebrate and strengthen the traditional bonds of friendship and brotherhood among all the communities”.

On hand at the celebration were Kumar Barve, Majority Leader of the Maryland House of Delegates, and board members of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington (IFC) including Reverend Dr. Carol M. Flett and Mr. Nanik Lahori. Among the key organizers of the Mela were Dr. Suresh C. Gupta, Dr. Ram Singh, Mythili Bachu, Kirit Udeshi, Dr. Rateebhai Patel, Shyam Bajpai, Nilesh Shahi, Dilip Jhaveri, Susheela Krishnan and Alok Srivastava.

The UHJT is a conglomerate of sixteen member temples and organizations spanning across the greater Washington area to Baltimore. Each year, a different temple takes the lead in organizing the Diwali Mela. Aharam was representing the Sri Venkateswara Lotus Temple located in Fairfax, VA.

Diwali, the festival of lights, “is embraced by all faiths as a festival of virtue, peace and harmony”, she emphasized. “This grand celebration embodies the unity of our multi-cultural region and the contributions of our community to promote our culture”.

A highlight of the Mela are the performances, rich and resplendent as the stage setting! We, at INDIA THIS WEEK, queried Renuka Sahay, choreographer and director of the Pushpanjali dance school based in Germantown, about her offering. Representing the Hindu Temple, she explained that her students were performing a diya dance set to the popular bhajan, ‘Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram’, in a semi-classical dance style, followed by the Shiva Tandav in Bharatanatyam.

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Prakriti Singh (left), a student of Kalamandapam which is a Kuchipudi dance school based in Fairfax, with a festival-goer at the nineteenth annual Diwali Mela organized by the United Hindu and Jain Temples (UHJT) of Metropolitan Washington, DC

Artistes of Kalamandapam, a Kuchipudi dance school based in Fairfax, invoked Goddess Durga in ‘Mahishasura Mardhini’, choreographed by Bhagavathula Srinivas.

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Supremely talented artistes of Kalavaridhi Dance School, founded and directed by Sheela Ramanath (center), performing Indian classical dances in the bharatanatyam style at the 19th annual Diwali Mela organized by the Association of United Hindu and Jain Temples (UHJT) of the metropolitan Washington area

Sheela Ramanath, founder and artistic director of the Kalavaridhi dance school, together with her students, began with a Bharatanatyam dance in obeisance to Lord Narayana. “It signifies the union of the mortal and supreme soul”, Sheela told us. This was followed by the ‘Thillana’ which, she explained, “is a fast-paced rhythmic dance performed at the end of a recital as a grand finale”. The effect was profound as Kalavaridhi artistes displayed a mastery over movements and facial expressions. “To me, dance is about touching a soul through a medium that transcends all barriers”, says Sheela.

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Students of the Nrityaki Dance Academy (left), founded and headed by Shweta Misra (second from right), at the nineteenth annual Diwali Mela organized by the United Hindu and Jain Temples (UHJT) of Metropolitan Washington, DC

Students of the Nrityaki Dance Academy, founded and directed by Shweta Misra, presented a heartfelt dance in the Kathak style which was set to the Hanuman Chalisa. The choreography was of the highest caliber and the dance, a delight to behold!

Sneha Misra, a 13-year-old student of Nrityaki, told us, “I found our performance very empowering and it attracted attention. This made me proud! Afterwards, I had the opportunity to explore the different set-ups, especially india.com which had a lot of freebies that I enjoyed. Overall, the event was an enjoyable experience for me”, she said.

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Members of Gabroo Punjab De Bhangra delivered a power-packed performance rocking the stage with the traditional Punjabi dance at the nineteenth annual Diwali Mela held, Saturday, at the FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland

In the grand finale, members of Gabroo Punjab De Bhangra, or GPD Bhangra as they are called, rocked the stage in an energy-packed performance! They danced with gusto, with a verve and vivacity that is unmatched. The group literally got a large, overjoyed crowd on its feet which cheered them all the way!

Lovepreet Aujla, founder and director of GPD Bhangra and a student at the University of Maryland, told us, “The team and I were thrilled to perform at the Mela because the event really showcases Indian culture and heritage – from artifacts to the diverse and intricate dances performed on stage”. Clearly pleased with the fabulous response, he said, “The core mission of our team is to spread happiness and show the local DMV (DC, Maryland and Virginia) community about our Punjabi culture through the energetic, colorful and fantastically fun dance, Bhangra. It was great to see the crowd cheer and applaud when we hit the stage”!

Deepa Sood of Intense Entertainment which organizes the finest celebrity concerts in the Washington area, believed the Diwali Mela “is a great platform to promote our culture and bring in the festive mood”. She and her husband, Manish Sood, were promoting their upcoming show, Dandiya Raas with Bollywood actress Prachi Desai, on October 18, at the Maryland Soccer Plex Stadium, in Germantown.

In a special greeting, the Interfaith Conference conveyed “Happy Diwali to our Hindu and Jain brothers and sisters”. The message read, “You are a festival of lights. May you each also deepen your awareness of your inner light. All of us at the Interfaith Conference join in your celebration. The persons of diverse faiths in the IFC have been blessed in so many ways by our Hindu and Jain brothers and sisters. Most recently, the UHJT programs at Sri Siva Vishnu Temple and Rajdhani Mandir promoted understanding of our diverse faith community members”.

UHJT is represented on the Board of Directors of IFC by Mr. Nanik Lahori, Mr. Ragha Raghavan, Dr. D.C. Rao and Dr. Sushil Jain.

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Young students of the Pushpanjali dance school, based in Germantown, performed Indian classical dances at the nineteenth annual Diwali Mela held at the FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland
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Members of Gabroo Punjab De Bhangra delivered a power-packed performance rocking the stage with the traditional Punjabi dance at the nineteenth annual Diwali Mela held, Saturday, at the FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland
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