Kerri Gentius, Contributing Writer
People from all over the country flocked to the Greater Richmond Convention Center on Sept. 9 and 10 to experience a cultural feast for the senses.
The Festival of India, one of Richmond’s largest Indian showcases, returned for its 42nd year of sharing traditional Indian cuisine, music, dance and clothing.
G. Kurup founded the Festival of India in 1981 as a fundraising event to build a larger temple for the Indian community, according to Bina Mehta, the chair of culture for the festival.
“Dr. Kurup is the pioneer of the Hindu temple,” Mehta said. “When the Indian community started growing, he realized that we needed to have our temple. That is how the momentum started.”
Word spread about the expansion idea and it was soon realized that in order to have a bigger temple, they needed to raise more money, Mehta said.
Volunteers looked to their ancestral home for inspiration on how to raise the funds for the temple, Mehta said.
“In India, we had like this kind of fun fair,” Mehta said. “All the Indian cultural vendors, cultural programs, Indian food and everything is what we used to have.”
With these ideas in mind, the Hindu Center of Virginia sponsored the first Indian Bazaar in 1981 with the event bringing in 1,500 people, according to the festival’s website.
In its 42 years, attendance swelled to over 20,000 people, Mehta said.
The event is run entirely by volunteers, according to Mehta.
“Nobody is getting a single penny paid for this,” Mehta said.
The biggest draw to the Festival of India are the performances, Mehta said. The festival has seen an increase in participation in the cultural activities due to the competitive programs such as dance competitions.
Director and founder of Kalasattva dance studio, Priti Gosar-Patil, has been a part of the Festival of India for the last 25 years. During her time, she witnessed the growth of the event.
“Now, they have increased the standard of classical performances, the folk dances, the Bollywood dances,” Gosar-Patil said. “Because they’ve brought in the competition, the kids and their parents do their best.”
Performances included two main types of classical Indian dance, Bharatanatyam and Kathak, as well as Bollywood-style dances, Gosar-Patil said.
“We want them to show off our India to others,” Gosar-Patil said. “To their friends, families and their schoolmates.”
Anna Sara John, a member of Team Rhythm, competed in Sunday’s dance competition showcase.
“The dance which we performed today is a style called Lavani,” John said. “It’s a regional dance from Maharashtra. It is not a classical dance but it’s from a classical dance.”
What separates Lavani from classical dances is the use of hand mudras. Mudras are symbolic hand and finger gestures, according to Britannica.
“Each finger has a different mudra, in Lavani, it’s a free flow of the hands,” John said.
Five categories were added to the competition this year, according to the festival’s website. White Out; Glam, Glow, and Glitter; Colors of “Kapoors”; Palette of Colors; and Spectrum of Celebration brought festival attendees vibrant performances of dance.
The venue was awash with an array of colors. Deep purples, blues, golds, reds, greens and yellows invited onlookers to indulge their senses. Delicate Pashmina scarves and intricately patterned Saris lined clothing stalls. Semi-precious stone jewelry stacked elegantly on display, beckoned festival attendees to take a closer look.
The festival also hosted a fashion show which featured different clothing styles in and around India. A new addition to the festival was the showcase of Nepal’s culture through song, dance and clothing.
The festival featured a variety of regional delicacies ranging from the milky Lassi to the spicy Chicken Biryani and to desserts like Pan Ladoo and Pootharekulu, a sweet wrap filled with sugar, dry fruits and nuts. Attendees enjoyed trying the snack-style food such as Samosas.
Many community members have been attending the event for years, and event attendees said that now there’s more participation from the community and local leadership.
“The costumes, the songs, and the preps, and the props used for the performances are so authentic,” Bina Mehta said. “Every year we raise the bar.”
Mehta is optimistic about the future of the Festival of India, she said.
“As for growing the community, you see that lots of people are working together and the festival is getting bigger,” Mehta said. “So I see it around for another 30 or 40 years.”