A Celebrate India extravaganza at Fed Square marked the culmination of 10 days of festivities
Diwali like never before, they said.
And how true they turned out to be.
Diwali at Federation Square, organised by Celebrate India, stood up wonderfully to its reputation of being the southern hemisphere’s largest Diwali celebration.
With events lined up to mark the festival across the city for ten whole days, thousands enjoyed the cultural bonanza of Indian food, music, dance and traditions.
The celebrations at Fed Square themselves were held over two days to mark the 10th anniversary of this iconic event in the Melbourne Indian community’s annual calendar.
Not only was it a gathering of the clan for the Indian community, the Diwali spirit was also shared with the wider community who participated in droves.
Premier of Victoria Daniel Andrews attended the event along with Indian High Commissioner Navdeep Suri, Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs Inga Peulich and Cr Beverly Pinder-Mortimer who represented the Lord Mayor of Melbourne.
Bandhani safas (turbans) on their heads, silk scarves around their shoulders and flower gardens around their necks in typical Indian tradition, they lit the ceremonial lamp for Diwali 2015.
Former premier Ted Baillieu, Consul General of India Manika Jain and Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin Scott also graced the occasion.
“Diwali has now become a Victorian festival,” Premier Andrews announced to much cheer. “It signifies the morals that the Indian community emphasizes on.”
The giant paisley on the stage backdrop with an India map at its top curl, and the large brass lamps at the forefront, stood witness as Federation Square was enveloped in the Diwali theme of light lifting our lives.
The pure joi de vivre on stage with the back-to-back acts also sent out the message of the occasion – khush-haali aur samriddhi, goodwill and good cheer.
Among the dances, the highlight act Kalbelia, a traditional dance troupe from Rajasthan, were a treat to watch.
The performers danced in their trademark swirling skirts, with earthen pots balancing on their heads, their feet on glasses, lamps and knives, even a bed of nails.
For those familiar with their art, the troupe took people back to the sand dunes, with mesmerizing folk songs. Who can dare sit still to Oh laal meri pat!
Amongst the crooners handpicked for the celebration, a major highlight was the live performance by Taz from Stereo Nation.
With his power-packed performance, especially those fire fountains, the crowd seemed to want Nachenge Sari Raat all night long! A welcome addition to this year’s festivities.
Local talent was equally impressive, with Gujarati Association, Shrishti Bengali Association, Bollywood Beats, Mai Naachungi dance company, Jhoom Bollywood Dance, the Federation of Bhangra, Punjabi Bhangra Beats, Nritya Dance Group, Manmohini, Tattva, Ignite and Shaimak Davar Group, as well as Om Group, setting the stage on fire in their particular styles.
In a wonderful spirit of sharing, a hallmark of the festival, mainstream performing arts company Strange Fruit presented some truly fabulous numbers on popular Bollywood songs like Rang De Basanti and Koi Kahe.
Their very visual act, with elements of theatre and acrobatics, simply wowed the crowds.
“It is absolutely delightful to see the growing interest in our festival and the increased participation from mainstream businesses as well as local community,” said Arun Sharma, the Chairman of Celebrate India Inc.
“Our aim is to facilitate better understanding of Indian culture and its diversity among the wider Australian community through this festival, and this year being our 10th anniversary we went all out to celebrate, entertain and involve everyone.”
In their effort to involve everyone, the activities this year involved the innovative ‘Sing For Diwali’ competition. Amateur as well as trained singers were invited to record their songs on a smart device to be uploaded to social media.
The winners were chosen based on public voting and the verdict of independent judges. The winners were provided an opportunity to sing at on the Federation Square stage in front of an enthusiastic audience of thousands of festival attendees.
Winners included Parvathy Nair, Siyona Goel, Chondryma Chakrabortti, Bharat Uniyal and Thridivya Deepak. A wonderful effort to encourage local talent.
The competition was in addition to the annual essay competition for primary school kids, which encourages youngsters to explore the connections between Australia and India.
This year, students across the city wrote essays on the significance of the date 26 January for both countries.
Year 5 student Sahana Rudresh of Rangebank Primary School took the top prize, winning two return tickets to India sponsored by Air India.
Other winners included Yasmin Sharpe (Year 6, William Ruthven Primary School), Yashvi Parmar (Year 6, VSL Blackburn), Eliza Patterson Year 6, Aspendale Gardens Primary School), and Anthony Kollatas (Year 5 Oakleigh Grammar).
Aspendale Gardens Primary School took the award for the School with Most Entries, winning a 6-week leadership program by AFL.
And a white ribbon too
Celebrate India also take very seriously their social responsibilities. What better occasion than Diwali to raise awareness about the scourge of domestic violence in our community.
As a supporter of White Ribbon Australia’s campaign against domestic violence, throughout the day oaths were pledged by many as a commitment to lead by example, be a role model and intervene safely when needed.
But wait there’s more!
Federation Square was abuzz with activities during the day as people milled around in large crowds enjoying the variety on offer at the festival.
Food stalls proved quite popular, along with henna applications and stalls selling Indian handicrafts.
Sponsors and stall holders promoted multiple brands and products and vied for attention. RACV, Richmond Football club, Melbourne Airport, Vodafone and Melbourne Renegades were among many that participated in the Diwali festivities.
Instrumental music, lec-dems, workshops, film shows and kids’ activities kept special interest groups engaged.
A fashion show seems to have become mandatory at most Indian community events as we showcase our couture besides our food, music and dance. On this occasion though, the choice of a khadi designer line was a refreshing change.
The Melbourne-based Khadiyarn, created by Nildhara Gadani and Linda Marrett, sent models down the catwalk clad in some lovely natural material.
Their modern take on a traditional hand-woven/hand-spun fabric found many fans, especially among the mainstream attendees. Hurrah for more sustainable initiatives!
Earlier on, commuters at Flinders St Station and travellers at Melbourne Airport got a taste of the festival with live performances, mithai and Diwali announcements.
A Diwali-decorated carriage played Indian music as its ambled across the CBD. And Coles Supermarket provided special discounts to those who attended the Diwali extravaganza at Fed Square.
The ancient Hindu festival had truly found a new home in Melbourne this year, as the magic of its light spread across the city!
The evening concluded with an electrifying laser show to the tune of Baar Baar Ho from Bollywood blockbuster Lagaan, followed by spectacular fireworks at the banks of Yarra.
Months of voluntary hard-work came to fruition over one weekend and the overall feedback received by the organisers was most encouraging.
For those who enjoy the pageantry associated with a massive public celebration including fun, food, information and entertainment with a heavy dose of culture the Fed Square Diwali is a ‘must attend’ event.
With Gaurav Masand, Simmi Singh, Ashish Chawla
More photos visit www.facebook.com/IndianLinkAustralia