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Celebrating ten years of Celebrate India’s Diwali at Fed Square
Melbourne’s iconic Federation Square is gearing up for a massive party in November and everyone is invited.
Over two days, Friday 6 and Saturday 7 November, be prepared for an impressive line-up offerings as the hardworking team at Celebrate India Inc. mark their 10th anniversary of Diwali at Federation Square.
Founded by Arun Sharma, Virendra Berera, TJ Rao and Martand Joshi in 2006, with Arun’s wife Jaya Sharma playing a key role behind the scenes, Celebrate India has grown to be a tremendous force in Australia’s Indian community.
Arun and Jaya Sharma with former CEO of Melbourne Airport Chris Woodruff
“When we started, we had been here for a long time,” says Celebrate India chairman Arun Sharma. “We saw that most of the festivals and events were being held to look after the needs of local Melbourne communities, but there was nothing to cater to the wider community.”
“Celebrate India was formed to bring people together; to share our festivals with fellow Australians to promote understanding, and to celebrate our heritage for future generations.”
The first Diwali celebrations hosted by Celebrate India were held back in 2006 at Federation Square. Even at the inaugural event, an estimated 25,000 people were in attendance.
This year, after a decade of commitment and determination, Mr Sharma expects more than 60,000 people to attend.
“When we started, we looked at all India’s festivals and found Diwali to be the most accessible and appropriate, as it doesn’t have to promote religion,” Mr Sharma explains.
In the beginning, it was very difficult to get Diwali at Federation Square off the ground.
“We had to convince people about the merits of the event,” Mr Sharma explains.
“At that stage, no one knew Diwali. We had a meeting with the Lord Mayor and I had to take photos from celebrations held in India to show them what is was about. They had no idea.”
Hosting an event in the heart of Melbourne’s city also presented logistical challenges.
“It was very hard work,” Mr Sharma admits.
Today, Celebrate India is headed by Mr Sharma, along with committee members Virendra Berera, Jaya Sharma, Vamsi Krishna Budige and Harj Nota.
The Diwali at Federation Square event has also grown from a single day affair to a week-long celebration in the city, including two days of celebrations at Federation Square, and ten days of festivities at Melbourne Airport.
Melbourne Airport’s Diwali festivities
“There is such a lot to offer that we were struggling to fit everything in one day, so we decided to hold the festivities over two days – mainly to celebrate our 10th anniversary,” says Mr Sharma, who has been at the helm, meticulously planning the massive event.
“This year is going to be the culmination of the best of the last nine years of celebrations, with popular items like Strange Fruit (the Melbourne-based performing arts company) making a comeback, along with many new surprises.”
To put together an event of this proportion takes months of hard work, generous sponsorship and people willing to help.
Celebrate India has a dedicated team of 35 volunteers for Diwali planning, and this swells to 70 volunteers during the event.
“I am most excited by our family of volunteers,” Mr Sharma admits. “Their energy, motivation and ability to pull together, their unwavering commitment is a great achievement.”
Celebrate India has been fortunate to enjoy bipartisan political support despite Victoria’s changes in government. When asked what has changed most in the past ten years, Mr Sharma says it is the community reaction and support.
“Diwali has become a well-known festival,” he says. “We used to have to include ‘Festival of Lights’ to explain the event, but now we don’t need to. Friends, politicians everyone knows Diwali. We have people eagerly looking forward to the festival, even non-Indians get very excited. That has been the biggest change and achievement.”
Diwali at Federation Square 2015 will be a celebration of Victoria’s ethnic diversity and an opportunity to enjoy and experience traditional and contemporary Indian culture in its many exciting forms.
The free event, and the days leading up to the weekend, promise to be both educational and entertaining with plenty on offer to soak in the spirit of the popular Indian festival.
Preparations are underway to host Taz from Stereo Nation who is a renowned Indian singer; composer and artist from the UK.
“If all goes without a hitch, Stereo Nation will be performing at the Fed Square Diwali Festival and, given his popularity, we are expecting his show to be a massive crowd puller and pleaser,” says Arun Sharma as he shares the upcoming program.
Another exciting act will be Kalbeliya, a popular Rajasthani Folk dance group, as well as performances from local bands like the Om Music Group and The Fifth.
Those heading out to Melbourne airport will be greeted with a Diwali display in the departure lounge, Diwali banners on display in the international terminal and video footage of previous celebrations being screened in three locations.
“We have had remarkable cooperation from the Melbourne Airport,” says Mr Sharma. “They will be playing regular announcements in English and Hindi wishing everyone a happy Diwali. The airport rim will also be illuminated in purple during the last week to signify the festival of lights.”
The Metro will also be announcing pre-recorded Diwali wishes in various languages in the week leading up to the celebration.
“Our motivation in putting all this together is to showcase the rich and vibrant Indian culture and celebrate Diwali with the wider community. This sharing of cultural knowledge will ensure more acceptance for our future generations,” says Jaya Sharma, an integral member and often the creative brain behind the Celebrate India executive committee.
Stalwarts of the Indian community, Celebrate India promotes the cause of White Ribbon Ambassadors. White Ribbon is an Australian organisation campaigning to put an end to violence against women.
Since 2011, Diwali at Federation Square has invited all Victorians to stand up, join the conversation and take the oath pledging to never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.
From the official launch of the Festival at the Richmond Football Club to its conclusion with some spectacular fireworks there will be something for everyone. AFL players, fashion parades, live music and cultural entertainment are all part of the ‘Folkwood’ theme of this year’s event.
So where does the passion, zeal and hard work behind such a successful venture come from?
“The best feedback we have received over the years is from a teary-eyed young man from India who approached us after last year’s Diwali festival. He said “Thanks to you I do not miss home (India) anymore,” Arun Sharma says.
Jaya Sharma concurs. “It becomes worthwhile when you see people immerse themselves in the festivities,” she says. “It’s fantastic to see them appreciate our efforts in bringing the joy of Diwali to the streets of Melbourne.”