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CGI Atlanta celebrates the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence Day

September 2022
CGI Atlanta celebrates the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence Day

The Indian Consulate for the southeastern United States in Atlanta observed and celebrated the joyous occasion of the 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence Day with the ceremonial flag hoisting ceremony on the Consulate lawns in the morning as well as the evening gala at the Sandy Springs Performing Arts Center.

The local patriots in the diaspora had gathered early in the morning on that bright and clear day at the Indian Consulate, and at the appropriate time after the arrival of the Dr. Swati Kulkarni, Consul General of India in Atlanta, got situated around the flag post on the Consulate lawns. Some had arrived with small Indian paper flags in hand, while others had come with large portrait frames of the Indian freedom struggle martyrs. Soon thereafter Dr. Kulkarni unfurled Tiranga, the Indian tricolor flag, with rose petals showering on the attendees from the folds of the flag as it was being hoisted. Soon it was fluttering free in the wind.

Dr. Kulkarni has not only excelled at her diplomatic as well as trade and economy-building duties but also initiated quite a few innovative ideas and programs during her term here. Among them: the installation of a large Gandhi bust also on the Consular Lawns, as well as the launch of the “Chat Box” (Dost: Kahin Bhi Kabhi Bhi) an AI-based query resolving app responds 24 x 7 from anywhere at any time on the Consular website. She has also launched a book initiative on FAQ’s for any Indian overseas dealing with the do’s and don'ts abroad that provide guidelines on how to not only stay out of trouble but also to live safely and legally overseas. This assembly of writings is spearheaded by none other than Atlanta’s prolific media person Jyothsna Hegde besides contributions from the Consulate staff and others.Aug-15-2 copy.jpg

Soon after the singing of “Jana Gana Mana,” the Indian national anthem and the booming chants of “Vande Mataram” as well as “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan” by all present, the gathering turned to the set podium where Dr. Kulkarni read the excerpts from the speech given in India from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 75th Independence Day by the newly appointed President of India, Draupadi Murmu, who, apart from being only the second woman to hold that prestigious office, is the first person from the tribal community to become President of the Indian Republic.

Beginning her address, President Murmu said, “On August 15, 1947, India cut the shackles of colonial rule. While celebrating the anniversary of that auspicious day, we salute all the freedom fighters.”Reflecting on the “Har Ghar Tiranga” campaign, she said that Indian tricolors are fluttering in every nook and corner of the country. She said, “It is a cause of celebration not only for all of us but also for every advocate of democracy around the world. When India won independence, there were many international leaders and experts who were skeptical about the success of democratic form of government in India. But we Indians proved the skeptics wrong. Democracy not only grew roots in this soil, it was enriched too. Unlike most other well-established democracies, India adopted universal adult franchise right, including women, since the beginning of the Republic. India can be credited to have helped the world discover the true potential of democracy. The world saw a new India rising in recent years, more so after the outbreak of Covid-19. Our response to the pandemic has been appreciated everywhere as we launched the biggest vaccination drive in human history with vaccines manufactured in the country itself. Last month we crossed the 200-crore mark in cumulative vaccine coverage. In combating the pandemic, our achievements have been better than those of many developed countries. For this feat, we are grateful to our scientists, doctors, nurses, paramedics, and the staff associated with vaccination. India is among the fastest growing major economies in the world. India's start-up ecosystem ranks high in the world. Especially, the growing number of unicorns is a shining example of our industrial progress. The government and policymakers deserve credit for beating the global trend and helping the economy flourish. During the last few years, unprecedented progress has been made in the development of physical and digital infrastructure. Through the ‘Pradhan Mantri Gati-Shakti Yojana’(National modern infrastructure and logistics synergy master plan) all the modes of connectivity based on water, land, air etc. are being integrated in the whole country to enable seamless transportation across the country. What is all the more heartening is that the growth is becoming more inclusive and regional disparities too are reducing. Digital India, for example, is creating the bedrock of a knowledge economy. The ‘National Education Policy’ is aimed at preparing the future generation for the next stage of industrial revolution while also reconnecting it with our heritage. A home of one’s own is no longer a dream for the poor, but a reality for more and more people, thanks to the ‘Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana’ [National affordable housing plan]. Similarly, under the ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’ [piped water for every household], tap water connection is being provided to every household since the launch of the ‘Har Ghar Jal’ scheme. At the grassroots level, we have more than 14 lakh elected women representatives in Panchayati Raj institutions. Our daughters are the biggest hope for the nation. Some of them brought laurels for the country at the recently held Commonwealth Games. Of course, India’s sports persons have been making the country proud by their performance in international competitions. A large number of our winners come from underprivileged segments of society. From becoming fighter pilots to space scientists, our daughters are scaling great heights. Our beloved country has given us everything we have in our life. We should pledge to give everything we can for the sake of safety, security, progress, and prosperity of our country. Before I conclude, I would like to extend Independence Day greetings to the armed forces, to the members of Indian missions abroad, and to the Indian diaspora who continue to make their motherland proud.”

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 Dr. Kulkarni concluded her remarks with laudable statistics of her reign at the southeastern Indian Consulate. Truly, her presence and her actions have reinforced unity among the diaspora in the southeast and she will have left an indelible mark in the history of the Atlanta Consulate. In closing, she expressed adieu in her gratitude to all the attendees, and invited them to proceed towards refreshments, while she entertained some for photos.

The formal evening gala was strictly by invitation only and included Senators, Governors, Congress Representatives, Mayors, Consul Generals of various nations, Community Leaders, elected or running-for-election law makers, media folk, and others. Once the registration and meet & greet session concluded, and most had arrived inside the grand hall, the emcee, Namita Rawat,Vice Consul (Administration)of the Indian Consulate, dressed in a striking yellow saree with a purple and gold embroidered blouse, eloquently expressed the evening’s proceedings authored by none other than the Consulate’s very popular Mini Nair, Special Assistant to the Consul General.

With U.S. visas on a current restraint, ICCR’s planned team of performers scheduled for this gala could not make it in time forcing Mini Nair to reach into her rolodex and count on the community’s support to come to her rescue. With less than 48 hours in hand she elaborately organized and executed all the cultural presentations for the evening.

The traditional opening of this gala is always with the presentation of the American and Indian national anthems. Rishi Manoj sang “Star-Spangled Banner” and Geethu Venugopal, Akshata, Dhithi, Shruthi, and Varshini sang “Jana Gana Mana.” After the patriotic rendition of the two national anthems, Rawat invited Dr. Kulkarni to ascend the stage and address the gathering. The Consul General extended her welcome to all the invited attendees, and her remarks included a PowerPoint presentation of the tenacious and significant achievements of the Indian nation after independence, as well as the robust Indo-U.S. relations and India’s contribution in the Indo-U.S. trade and economic rise. She received a standing ovation for her speech.

This was followed by dance performed by the members of the Odisha Society of the Americas-Georgia Chapter. Among all folk dances, Sambalpuri folk dance is immensely popular and Dalkhai is performed mostly during Dussehra. It is mostly danced by young women of various tribes of different districts of Odisha, while men join them as drummers and musicians, and sometimes as dancers. The dance is accompanied by a rich orchestra of folk music played with a number of instruments including the Dhol. It is known as Dalkhai because at the beginning and end of every para in the song, the word is used as an address to a girlfriend. The women generally dress themselves in colorful Sambalpuri saris and wear a scarf on the shoulders holding the ends in both hands. Bedecked with traditional jewelry, their robust frames sustain the strain of the dance for long hours. This Dalkhai was performed by Ananya Buxi, Mamata Panda, Monalisa Misra, Pallavi Mohanty, Rani Acharya, Rashmi Rekha Tripathy, RebatiSethy, Sonali Das, Subhashree Tripathy, and Sujaya Dash.Karishma Bhatankar &Sayuree Kulkarni performed Rukhmai next. It is a Marathi dance recital. Karishma, a Kathak dancer, trained under Guru Rutuja Sathe Karmarkar, is an engineer by profession and an artist at heart, who wants to be a digital illustrator.

Sayuree Kulkarni is a Bharatnatyam and Odissi dancer. She has been learning Bharatnatyam for 20 years under Guru Smita Soman and Odissi for four years from Guru Rasika Gumaste. She has also completed a Master of Arts in Bharatnatyam.

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Rukmini in Sanskrit or Rukhumai in Marathi means radiant, bright, or decorated with gold ornaments. Rukhumai is worshiped in Pandharpur region of Maharashtra alongside Vithal (Vithoba). They both are worshiped as a couple. Vithal- Rukhumai have been primary deity of millions of people around India. Rukhumai is believed to be Goddess Laxmi by all, and also believed to be the strongest and fearless of all Gods and Goddesses. In this Rakhumai song, these two portrayed the importance of Rakhumai in Vithhal’s life and in the administration of Vaikuntha.

Established in 1988, with a mission to be a leader in the field of Indian classical arts, Nritya Natya Kala Bharti, is a premier Kathak dance institute. NNKB, as it is popularly known, is dedicated to the purity of Indian classical dance and music. NNKB is authorized by the Georgia Nonpublic Postsecondary Education Commision to offer Certificate Programs in Kathak. Directed by Kumud and Sandeep Savla, NNKB is the Southeastern U.S.’s largest Indian dance and music academy. Director Kumud Savla has trained and performed with world-renowned gurus such as the late Pandit Kundanlalji, late Pandit Durgalalji, and Rajendra Kumar Ganganiji. She has played a major role in advancing Kathak to audiences around the world, has conducted dance workshops in several countries, and has been teaching Kathak for over 35 years. Sandeep Savla, an accomplished composer, musician, and Kumud Savla’s husband, has been her pillar and Co-Director at NNKB.

NNKB’s disciples, Manila Gaddh, Samrangi Ghosh, and Laura Gosnell, took the audience to the holy town of Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna spent his childhood, met his beloved Radha, and playfully teased the Gopis. The maidens of the town, Gopis, love to play with Lord Krishna by dancing and singing with him. The threesome presented a beautiful Kathak Raas Leela, Mriganayani, where the Gopis are ready to dance with their Lord Krishna.

The final presentation was by BharathakalaNatya Academy. Subathra Sudarshan started BharathakalaNatya Academy in 2007 to promote and teach the divine art of Bharatanatyam as well as to inculcate the Indian culture and values to their students. Bharathakala has grown to over 200 students, and they have done various programs around the world, including China and Sri Lanka. Bharathakala believes in giving through dance. With that in mind, Subathra founded Third Eye Dancers, a nonprofit organization. Bharathakalaand Third Eye Dancers have raised over $500,000 for various noble causes and charities in the U.S., India, Africa, and Sri Lanka.

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The group began with a Ganesha Vandana, a praise of Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles, followed by an Indian classical fusion comprised of euphonious rhythmic syllables, called Jathis, and a mesmerizing intervention of melody. The fast intricate footwork and the brisk nature of the Jathis, combined with rhythmic notes, is always attractive and has a quick appeal to the mind of the spectator. They ended their presentation with Vande Mataram, a salute to Bharat Mata, celebrating unity and the Independence Day of Mother India. The performers included Akshada Subramaniyan, Dhvani Shankar, Hasini Pokala, Katherine Kumar, Kripa Mahadevan, Nishevitha Suresh, Rohini Nambiar, Shreya Srinivasan, Shruthi Shankar, Shruti Sunil, Tara Narendran, Vaishnavi Janaki, Vanisha Panicker, and Yashaswini Pandibabu. All performers received a thunderous applause from the very appreciative audience.

Interspersed with the cultural items were video felicitations and personal remarks by special emissaries. Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia sent a special message to H.E. Ambassador Sandhu of India, as well as Congressman Joe Wilson of Colombia, South Carolina. A message was also received from former Mayor of Broward County, Dale Holness, who is now running for a Congressional seat, as well as the former Senator Steven Geller, both from Florida. Mayor of Natchez, Mississippi, Dan Gibson, sent a video message and was in attendance as well and so was Mayor Hazelle Rogers of Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Also present among others were Georgia State Representatives Carolyn Bourdeaux and Shea Roberts, Georgia Senators Immaneual Jones and Sheikh Abdul Rahman. Present were Consul Generals Anat Sultan-Dadon of Israel and Yoonjoo Park of Korea besides a few others. The evening ended with a culinary dinner spread presented by Narendra Patel of Madras Chettinaad. All pictures were taken by Magic Dust Photography. 

- Viren Mayani

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