Melbourne’s Diwali masala

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The city rocked with various celebrations that brought awareness and enjoyment of the Festival of Lights, reports PREETI JABBAL
This Diwali I was completely ‘partied out’ thanks to being present at multiple celebrations, and I am still attending more nearly a month later. Not that I am complaining, because thanks to the festivities, I have had no time to miss Diwali ‘back home’. We seem to celebrate the event far more in Australia than we ever did before, thanks to the various organisations that are jumping on the bandwagon to celebrate Indian festivals.  Between Celebrate India’s Diwali Festival, AIII’s Diwali Mela, Wyndham Diwali, PCV Diwali, private Diwali events and the Diwali celebrations in regional areas of Victoria like Ballarat, November has been hectic to say the least and our community has certainly been spoilt for choice. Here is a round-up the main Diwali events in Victoria in 2013.
India recreated in Fed Square
Venue: Federation Square, Melbourne
Organisers: Celebrate India Inc.
Overcast skies and the chance of rain did not deter the crowd from attending the Diwali Festival of Lights event held in the heart of the world’s most liveable city. Federation Square is generally abuzz with activities; however never before would it have witnessed such a vibrant array of colours, music and dances as it did with Celebrate India’s Diwali festival. Visitors to Melbourne’s iconic Federation Square enjoyed a range of activities from sporting henna tattoos, to learning Bollywood and bhangra dance steps, to tying colourful turbans, sampling delicious Indian food, hobnobbing with footy players, joining cricket clubs and in general, soaking up the colourful festive atmosphere.
Celebrate India is a not for profit, Victorian community organisation that was established to foster relationships between India and the wider Australian community. It has celebrated Diwali since late 2006, and the festivities seem to get bigger and better with each year. According to an official release from Federation Square, the 2013 Festival was attended by 58,000 people, making it one of the biggest celebrations of an Indian festival in Australia. The six-day event packed in a variety of activities as diverse as the culture it was designed to depict. Showcasing the best of Indian culture, the innovative agenda included free Bollywood movies, outdoor dance performances, food and a plethora of cultural entertainment.
A wonderful launch event was held by Celebrate India prior to the festival, where a beautifully lit up boat cruised down the Yarra and entertained guests. Leading up to the event, a carriage decorated with the Diwali theme was seen cruising around the city of Melbourne.  Diwali was also celebrated at the airport in Melbourne with great fanfare, amidst Diwali decorations, announcements, banners, dances and sweet distribution.  The event culminated with a spectacular fireworks display on the Yarra River, followed by a vivacious after-party.
The formal proceedings at the main event were attended by several dignitaries including Federal Labour Party Leader Bill Shorten and his wife Chloe; State Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews; City of Melbourne Councillor Beverley Pinder- Mortimer; Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship and Minister for Energy and Resources Nicholas Kotsiras; and newly arrived Consul of India Manika Jain.  Former Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu attended the event briefly. The Festival also supported White Ribbon to raise awareness of their campaign against domestic violence. Over 200 written oaths and innumerable silent oaths were collected supporting their cause.
Besides the eclectic cultural exposure, participants at the festival also gained commercial mileage through stalls and promotions. Said Arun Sharma, organizer of the festival and chairman of Celebrate India Inc., “Our festival is family friendly, caters to all ages, celebrates diversity and offers goodwill-building promotional value. This mega event takes months of preparation by the Celebrate India Team that includes over 45 hardworking volunteers. With the support of the Victorian Government, sponsors, media and the community we have pulled off another fantastic event this year and we hope to go from strength to strength in the years to come.”
Lots of bhangra at massive mela
Venue: Sandown Racecourse, Mulgrave
Organisers: Australian Indian Innovations Inc.
This year again, thousands flocked to the Sandown Racecourse in Mulgrave to celebrate the Indian festival of Lights with AIII. 13 years of celebrating Diwali in Melbourne has garnered the Australian Indian Innovations Inc. (AIII) considerable respect and admiration within the Indian community. AIII was created with the objective of celebrating and showcasing Indian festivals to the greater Australian community. Since 2002 it has been organizing Diwali fairs (melas) where everyone can attend and be part of the multicultural festivities. The mela is designed to offer a kaleidoscopic view of Indian culture and its diversity.
In direct proportion to the burgeoning population of migrants from India, this event is known to attract a massive crowd every year. The list of dignitaries that are invited and willing to attend the official part of this event has also seen a trajectory. The impressive list of guests this year included State Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews; Senator Scott Ryan representing Prime Minister Tony Abbott; Inga Peulich, Parliamentary Secretary for Education; Jude Perera, State Member for Cranbourne; Rakesh Kawra, Consul (SWCO); newly arrived Indian Consul General in Melbourne Manika Jain; and Victorian Multicultural Commission Chairperson Chin Tan and his wife, who made a splendid couple in their traditional Indian outfits.
As one entered the massive racecourse grounds the first colourful sight was a strategically placed SBS Broadcasting van inviting people to enjoy Karaoke-style singing and peppy bhangra. The SBS team encouraged audience participation and soon discovered that there was no dearth of talent in Melbourne. The food stalls were busy with an overwhelming demand for Indian delicacies, while the art and craft stalls stood out with their vibrant colours and wares.
Even the Labor and Liberal parties had taken stalls to promote themselves, in a bid to woo Indian community voters. This is the first time both parties have made such an overt attempt to interact with the Indian-origin community through the Diwali mela, and is certainly indicative of the growing influence of the community.
The stage was alive with non-stop performances during the day that included a popular fashion parade. Children kept busy with some fun rides. With henna, Ayurveda, Bollywood music, and Indian businesses and media all vying for attention, there was plenty to see and do.
The AIII team deserves kudos for their efforts in hosting another successful event.
Debut Wyndham Diwali mela attracts over 10,000
NEC Grounds, Werribbee South
Organisers: Wyndham Diwali
The first Wyndham Diwali Mela was held at the Werribee Park Grounds and was a tremendous success with over 10,000 people attending the event. Filled with colourful performances, scintillating music, fun rides for children and an array of delicious food, the Mela’s air of festivity was a cheerful and pleasant affair. Through the day, people could be seen enjoying the various events, meeting old friends and making new ones, and basking in an atmosphere that was reminiscent of the festival of lights back home in India.
Officials from the local and federal governments, and renowned members of the community were also present, including a large number of non-Indian origin attendees. Member for Lalor, Ms Joanne Ryan, said it was an honour to be a part of Wyndham’s first Diwali festival. “Wyndham’s first multicultural festival of lights has been a great success, and it was a privilege to be able to speak as part of the celebration,” Ms Ryan said. “Diwali is an important event to many local residents, and it’s only fitting we have an occasion like this to celebrate it together, as a community.”
“This is a great achievement and reflects the dedication of the local community, Wyndham City Council and important sponsorship from the Victorian Multicultural Commission. The organisers have done a fantastic job of creating a vibrant, fun and inclusive event for the entire community,” she added.
Among the events on the day were performances by groups and individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, making it a true multicultural festival. The cultural display and the main theme of the event was showcased in a unique way. It was heartening to see the crowd enjoying each performance and enthusiastically applauding the artistes. The event really took off at around 11:30am and continued well into the afternoon.
Of special mention is the Wyndham Diwali concept that came to life on the stage by the Artistic Director, Archana Koorthy and her team from Rachana Natyalaya. It was a wonderful display of dance forms, greatly enjoyed by the audience. Lakshmi Nookala and Sirisha Pathi from Archana’s team were instrumental in the smooth execution of program items on stage and they handled the challenges very well. Songs and musicians were coordinated by Latha Shesham to deliver an entertaining musical adventure for the crowd.
The event was managed by Shavik’s Managing Director, Srikanth Muthyala. His execution was unique, efficient and thoroughly professional .The core organising committee of Raghunandan Kuncha Koorthy, Srinivas Shesham and Archana Koorthy (Rachana Natyalaya), with the support of many volunteers such as Kartheek Munigoti, Shalini Muthyala and Ajay PK among others who contributed their personal time to make the event a success.
The Wyndham Diwali Inc. was strongly supported by Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship (OMAC), State Government of Victoria with initial funding, and the team was highly appreciative of the trust placed in them to execute the event. Wyndham City Council Mayor Cr. Heather Marcus and all the councilors, council staff provided support and guidance over the 8 months prior to the event.
The event was sponsored by Benlor Real Estate, Indya Foods, City West Water, Australian Management Institute, Brook on Sneydes, Fingertip Learning and Panda Family Day Care.
The event having received such an overwhelmingly positive response, the organisers have agreed to run the same event once again in 2014.
Wah, wah, balle, balle PCV Diwali party
Venue: Princess Court Reception Centre, Mulgrave
Punjabi Club Of Victoria Inc.
It was a big fat Punjabi Diwali as members and guests of the Punjabi Club Of Victoria  (PCV) got together recently, to celebrate the Festival of Lights at Princess Court Reception in Clayton. Diwali is the Indian equivalent of Christmas and Indians across the world celebrate this festival with fervour, especially the party loving Punjabis. The PCV Diwali is a much-anticipated event in Melbourne and features prominently on every PCV member’s social calendar.
Trust the Punjabis to put up a lively event and more often than not, they deliver. This year’s PCV Diwali was no exception as the guests enjoyed a wholesome combination of dinner followed by good entertainment and dancing.
The night began with diners indulging in a choice of starters followed by hearty main course portions that tempted everyone to overindulge. As everyone feasted, DJ Sweetmix Roadshow kept the party spirit alive with popular Bollywood and bhangra tunes. Next, a group of amateurs put on a fabulous show of authentic Punjabi bhangra dancing.
PCV prides itself in promoting and encouraging young talent, as a result there were several entertaining performances by young children and teenagers. The piece de resistance was a fire dance executed with great precision by the Bollywood Dazzlers. This professional dancing group comprised of dancers from various parts of the world unified on stage by their common love for Bollywood. Preet Panesar and Lauren Hewitt, as the gracious hostesses and MCs, kept the evening alive with their interactive style. An impromptu catwalk, nominal speeches, a fun raffle draw and seemingly endless sparklers for children got the organisers the desired tick of approval.
“Celebrating Diwali has become a PCV tradition,” claimed Tej Panesar, President of the PCV. “We take this responsibility very seriously and each year the PCV committee attempts to combine popular items with fresh innovative ideas to ensure that everyone enjoys this event. It is impossible to please everyone, but at the end of the night if people hesitate to leave the dance floor because they are having a good time, we know our job is done,” he added. This year the feedback for PCV Diwali event was mainly, “Wah! Wah!” and “Balle! Balle!
Promoting Indian culture though Diwali party
Venue: Azuba Indian Restaurant, Tullamarine
Organisers: Indo Australian Association in Craigieburn and Surrounding suburbs (IAACS)
Around 150 members and 40 children attended a Diwali and Bollywood Night at the Azuba Indian Restaurant in Tullamarine to celebrate the Festival of Lights. Organised by the IAACS (Indo Australian Association in Craigieburn and Surrounding suburbs), the event was proudly sponsored by Waves Consultancy, local migration Agents and Consultants as the Official Migration Agent of the Group IAACS.
The Diwali party was the brainchild of Ritu Sood and Vikas Sood, local Craigieburn residents, who successfully recreated the atmosphere of the festival back home in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. The event attempted to promote the celebration of Indian festivals which showcase the country’s culture and traditions, and can be enjoyed by all regardless of nationality.
The initiative was very well supported by Mr Deepak Vinayak JP, and the community judging by the numbers who turned out in colourful traditional attire to celebrate Diwali. Among other items, the Bollywood Dazzlers dance performance was well received and local children were given the opportunity to anchor for the event. Children also participated by performing solo Bollywood dance numbers as well.
Among the attendees were Deputy Mayor Casey Nunn, MP Liz Beattie, Mr Ali Khan and Mr Farrukh Hussain  from Yum Properties.
The IAACS also celebrated Holi this year with just 10 families, but the encouragement, initiative and support from the community resulted in celebrating their first official Diwali and Bollywood night, which was a grand success.
Poetry, song and dance to celebrate Deepavali
Venue: Clayton Hall, Clayton
Organisers Hindi Niketan
One of the oldest Indian organization in Melbourne celebrated Diwali recently by promoting and encouraging young talent. Several young performers and guests participated enthusiastically at the Hindi Niketan Diwali celebration held at Clayton Hall recently. According to Hindi Niketan President Dr Sharad Gupta the event was held a few weeks after the actual festival mainly to ensure that VCE students had completed their exams and their families would be able to attend the Diwali festivities.
Hindi Niketan was established in 1992 to promote Hindi language in Victoria.  Hindi Niketan celebrates India’s Independence Day and Republic Day on an annual basis and this year they reintroduced the Diwali festival as part of their events calendar after a gap of a few years.
Keeping with tradition, guests were welcomed with laddoos and the stage was decorated with colourful Diwali lights with a small area proudly displayed an image of the goddess Laxmi in all her splendour. The entertainment was an eclectic mix of classical Indian dances and some contemporary numbers. Members could dance, sing, joke or recite poetry on stage, and everyone who wished to participate was encouraged to do so irrespective of age, gender or in some cases, talent.
Anindya Gaur as the MC showed promise not only with her eloquence, but also with her dancing prowess as she manoeuvred some intricate Bollywood dance steps with ease. Ashwin Gaur and Warij Singh Bedi accompanied her in a Bollywood medley that proved quite popular with the audience. Nandini Pragash’s classical dance performance in praise of Lord Nataraja was executed with grace and precision.
Pondering over the large divide between the rich and poor was Rajendra Chopra’s poignant poem on Diwali. Chandra Jha, Asha Chopra, Chandar Sahu and Nawal Moudgil did most of the singing on stage, while Shravya Khatokar presented another classical performance on the joyous rhythm of dance. Poetry was the order of the day as Harihar Jha and Ramesh Dave launched into more poems on relevant topics.
A brief address from Manika Jain Consul General of India in Melbourne, Hong Lim MP for Clayton, Vasan Srinivasan President of FIAV, Chidambaram Srinivasan VMC Commissioner and Dr Sharad Gupta took up the formal proceedings, followed by community awards presented to Raj Dudeja from Indian Voice and Prof Santosh Kumar from Northern Region Indian Seniors Association. An award for service to the community was also presented to Dr Ram Mahajan, one of the oldest members and supporter of Hindi Niketan.
The highlight of the evening was Minister Hong Lim’s passionate speech on Cambodia’s link with Hinduism and his personal connection with the Indian community. As an ardent supporter of the community, he urged Indians to stop ‘pulling each other down’ and make efforts to have an Indian Member of Parliament to represent the community. Citing the example of other migrant communities in Australia he said Indians have a stronger presence in terms of sheer numbers, and it is imperative that Indians should unify and ensure better participation in this country’s politics and decision-making.
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Preeti Jabbal
Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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