Diwali Mela in Sydney is a winner

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Fundraising efforts stepped up at Deepavali mela in support of the bushfire victims

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“The message of light dispelling darkness can be found in many religions,” Victor Dominello, NSW Minister for Citizenship and Communities and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs said recently, “but no other culture celebrates this with as much energy as the Hindus!”

He was speaking at the 15th Deepavali Mela organised by the Hindu Council of Australia at the Sydney Olympic Park in late October.

Minister Dominello couldn’t have said it better. This year’s Deepavali had it all – entertainment, fun and food, catching up with friends, Raavan dehan, and to round off, some superb pyrotechnics.

The atmosphere began with cheerful anticipation of a busy day, with a riot of colours assaulting the senses through many brightly dressed attendees in traditional attire, coloured stalls sporting various wares and services, and the gaiety and camaraderie that is so symbolic of Diwali. The mela drew in some 15,000 people, much more than the UIA sponsored fair only months ago, and delivered in every respect. By the end of the day, the crowd was happy and content, having enjoyed a taste of home away from home.

Both Victor Dominello and Labor leader Chris Bowen impressed with their speeches on the occasion, also with their knowledge of the festival and the community they were addressing. Chris Bowen recalled his first Festival of Lights seventeen years ago, when he attended a Diwali celebration at Fairfield as mayor.

Both splattered their speeches with ‘namastes’, ‘shukriyas’ and ‘dhanyavaads’, in what can only be viewed as sharing the spirit of the season.

Hindu Council head Nihal Agar’s address clearly brought out his appreciation for the volunteers, whose efforts were indeed obvious for all to see.

Prof Agar’s dedication to the cause has been so exemplary, that he could possibly be called ‘Mr Deepawali’. Putting in perhaps just as many hours into this voluntary activity as in his day job, he has gained the respect of the Indian community at large. To the members of the Council, he is a great leader and motivator and has instilled the same spirit of dedication within his team. Not only did he pick his core team of organisers well, Prof Agar also ensured that they worked cohesively and efficiently. In the end, perhaps it was the clear vision espoused by the Diwali Mela committee that saw the event meet with the success that it did.

High Commissioner Biren Nanda’s speech on the other hand, sadly contained no message of hope or congratulations for the Indian community, or indeed the wider mainstream as they tackled an extreme natural disaster.

Even as bushfires raged in the nearby Blue Mountains, the Olympic Park event saw the launch of the Hindu Climate Action Kit. The Kit has been developed jointly by the Hindu Council of Australia and ARRCC (Australian Religious Response to Climate Change), a multi-faith organisation promoting actions to reduce eco-footprint amongst the faith communities of all major religions.

The HCA’s Vijay Singhal who helped develop the kit, said, “The current extreme weather conditions are a very timely reminder to all of us to take action to reduce our eco-footprint. From Hindu teachings and prayers to easy-to-understand science and improving energy efficiency, from ideas for nurturing a sense of connection with Mother Nature to advocacy, this kit will empower us in Greening our temple worship.”

ARRCC President Thea Ormerod helped launch the kit at the event.

There were some murmurings that perhaps the fireworks should be cancelled as a mark of respect for those affected by the bushfire, following the Chinese community that cancelled its own fireworks the same week. Raman Bhalla from the organising team revealed to Indian Link that indeed the idea was considered, but the decision was finally taken after some deliberation to keep them on. “I’ve had some 250 calls asking if the fireworks will be on,” he said. “The burning of Raavan is an essential element of the Diwali tradition. However our thoughts are definitely with those affected, as well as with those fighting the tragedy, and so we have decided to push our fundraising appeal very, very strongly.”

Indeed MC Manbeer Kohli passionately urged everyone on a regular basis, to do their bit.

On stage, the events ranged from cultural acts such as songs and dances both traditional and contemporary, to missives from various charities such as Transplant Australia. The standout numbers were crooners Jaspreet Grover and Priyanka Bhanushali, the Shiamak Davar dancers, and out on the grass, the Bollywood flash mob.

And by the way, how cool were the MCs Manbeer Kohli and Leah Briars: we hope to see lots more of them in the future.

Meanwhile, stalls in the outer field did brisk business. The food stalls probably saw half hour long waits at any given time, with stall holders such as the sugarcane juice rushing to refill supplies at regular intervals. (Hey, was that a fight that broke out at one of the foodie stalls? We couldn’t tell from the distance!) The ‘dharmic’ stall selling religious samagri was also busy, as expected, and everyone dropped by at the makeshift mandir to say quiet prayer to Lakshmi and Ganesh, the gods of the season.

The Western Union-sponsored Bollywood dance competition was an absolute hit, with some pretty good entrants strutting their stuff. The Ministry of Bhangra (MOB) were as forceful as ever as they stunned the audience with their energy, and while usually they are clear winners wherever they go, this time round they saw some stiff competition from the innovative Rhythms of India. MOB ended up placing first, with Rhythms of India a close second. Thank you MOB and Rhythms dancers, for raising the level of entertainment at Indian community functions! And keep up that spirit of competition because it makes it all the more enjoyable for the audience (who are sick by now of the amateur fare to which they are regularly treated).

The Telstra-sponsored Rangoli competition was a nice touch too: it added that ‘back home’ feel commendably, and no doubt inspired many to make plans for participation next year.

Overlooking it all, the big baddy Raavan stood witness to the celebrations, taking it all in with his ten heads, and weathering the hot sun in anticipation of his own fiery end. He may have looked pretty docile, but to the Hindus gathered there, he was evil personified! Come dusk, he was set alight, as revellers cheered. All the evil in the world had been symbolically brought to an end; the world was rid of all negative energies. As if to rejoice, the fireworks display came on, and as the sky glimmered and shimmered with a million lights, to the Hindus it marked the beginning of a shiny and hope-filled New Year.