VHPA Diwali celebration enlivens Atlanta at Centennial Olympic Park
Autumn is synonymous with colors, but in Atlanta it is not just the trees showing off their beautiful hues of red, yellow, orange, and purple. The Hindu festival season being in full swing, the community can be seen dressed in their colorful traditional best, celebrating Navaratri, Golu, Durga Pooja and Dussera, and preparing for Diwali—the Grand Finale. Thus, every year, the beautiful Centennial Olympic Park, on a crisp autumn Sunday, is transformed into a kaleidoscope of colors, with the Indian community gathered to celebrate the Festival of Lights in an event organized by World Hindu Council of America (VHPA), Atlanta Chapter.
This year, although the morning of October 12 had an unusually brisk rain, by 11am the clouds gave way to a sunny sky and the event proceeded without any major hiccups. This 9th annual celebration was free and open to the public, with free snacks, tea, and lunch for the entire crowd. Attendance was about a thousand people, much less than usual, due to the rain, and also traffic and parking challenges posed by the Falcons game downtown. Performers—about 20 different groups/individuals—braved the challenges and gave outstanding performances. They were greatly appreciated by the audience, who cheered, clapped, and at times broke into impromptu dances on the green lawns of the amphitheater.
The program opened with the traditional Ganesh and Saraswati Vandana by students of Balvihar and all the kids in the audience. Kusum Khurana, President of VHPA - Atlanta, gave the welcome. The traditional lamp was lit by chief guest Deputy Consul R. Srinivas and his wife Anagha. After a brief address by Srinivasji, the cultural program commenced with a classical Kathak dance by Leera Rawal, a disciple of Birju Maharaj and Smt. Kumudiniben Lakhia. The 5-7 year old students of Sreedevi Dadithota of the Natyaabhinaya Dance School presented a beautiful Kuchipudi invocatory dance—especially impressive because of their young age. Cobb Balvihar students coordinated by Neetu Sharma put forth a dance medley, choreographed by Nikki Bagadi, set to popular Hindi film songs. Cobb Balvihar teachers and volunteers, Neetu, Varsha Gupta, Seema Laddha, Ritu Sehgal, and Nicky Bagadi presented another fast paced medley and got the crowd dancing along with them. Balgokulam students, coordinated by Arti Sarda, performed a traditional garba. Another group of talented kids under the tutelage of Sweta Khatri danced on a sweet medley starting with the name of Lord Ganesha followed by Punjabi bhangra, Hindi film, and Rajasthani dance forms. An artist deserving special mention, Komal Bhullar, a self-taught 10-year-old, danced to a lively combination of Punjabi songs, complete with props and traditional bhangra. Mrunal Saggere from Maharashtra Mandal of Atlanta coordinated and choreographed a kids’ group dance set to "Deva Shri Ganesha." The group, too large for the stage, danced on the lawns, with an adorable Bal-Ganesh amidst them. The talented young ladies from the Kalaivani Dance and Music Academy performed a Bharatnatyam fusion dance. Sure to make Guru Padmaja Kelam proud, their skilled moves and great coordination drew a large round of applause.
The adults were not to be left behind, with their energetic and quality dance performances. Aadithya Prem, a long time favorite, and Mahek Patel of Mahek Dance Academy performed a fusion dance, with beautiful moves and striking costumes. A gopika-kolatam folk dance, choreographed by Swetha Pakala, was performed by "Natya Mayuri": Swetha, Vidya Ktragadda, Anu Khandavalli and Neelima Sunder Sen. A koli (fisherman dance) from Maharashtra was performed by enthusiastic couples, Mrunal/Sanjay Saggere, Radhika/Sandesh Shinde and Dipti/Sunil Kulkarni, dressed in the unique koli costumes. The popular, fast paced lavani, performed by Neha Worlikar Patil and Ruchi Dave Iyengar, was a huge success. Both the lavani and koli were choreographed by Neha who has been training a lot of groups for Maharashtra Mandal. The jogwa, a prayer dance paying homage to Goddess Durga, was performed by Pratima and Jaywant Dhumal, Vandana and Shailesh Pawar, Neeta Sorte, Manjula Kirangi, Rekha Yadav, and Sushil Varma. The dance, choreographed by Pratima, ended with the formation of the raudra roop of Goddess Durga, making for a really good photo-op. Adding a completely different flavor to the show was the high energy performance of Zumba, a popular dance cum exercise routine, led by Shiela Devlia of "Z Fitness with Shiela" accompanied by Hema Vishwanathan and Prina Patel.
It was a pleasure to listen to the talented singers. Amol Khanapurkar enthralled the crowd with two Hindi film songs. Shyam Gupta gave an excellent impromptu performance. Jiten Singh sang the old favorite “Mere Desh ki Dharti” and Shyam Tiwari soulfully did justice to “Tumko Dekha to yeh Khayal ayaa.” Another ghazal “Hum to Hain Pardes Mein, Desh Mein Nikla Hoga Chand,” sung by Smita Daftardar, reminisced about the faraway homeland of India.
The organizers, mindful of the Indian community’s love of dancing, invited the audience from time to time to an open dance session on the lawns, playing popular songs in Tamil, Gujarathi, Marathi, Bengali, and Punjabi for a rocking good time. Sabitha Venugopal kept the audience engaged and informed with her emceeing, making sure they knew about the food, mehendi, face painting, and raffle. Among the raffle prizes were gift certificates from Madras Chettinad, Boba Moca, and Venky's India Bhavan. There was a Nexus 7 table from an anonymous donor and the grand prize Kindle Fire HD sponsored by Expedite Technology Solutions.
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Thanks: The major sponsors for the VHPA "Festival of Lights" were Ambaji Shakti Mandir, Global Mall, House of Spices, Pratap Singh Chauhan, Chandra Tiwari, Neera Bahl and Drs. Swati and Abhishek Gaur. Ajay Houde from HSS and Milind Bavadekar from Maharashtra Mandal of Atlanta, along with their team of volunteers provided valuable support in the planning and execution of the event. The mehndi and face painting booths were run by our talented adult volunteers Indu Goel and Chandra Chandora, and not to be left behind by energetic youngsters Shreya Dube, Anushka Shivram, Yasmen Khoramabadi and Shreya Mishra. A group of GaTech student volunteers from Sigma Phi Epsilon helped throughout the day, from set-up to clean-up. The DJ for the event was Bally from DJ Bally International. The youngest volunteers were the students of Balvihar who sold the raffle tickets all day long. Last, but not the least, the artists who performed at the event was the largest group of volunteers—students, working professionals, moms & dads—who took time from their busy schedules to make this event a great success. The volunteers from VHPA, Atlanta Chapter could not have pulled off a challenge like this without the active support of the Indian community, especially since it is resolved to keep the event free and open to public. With the growing success of this event, with each passing year, the team at VHPA, Atlanta Chapter is committed to present outstanding programs in future and continue its efforts to bring the community together.
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