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Convention Celebrates Bengali Diaspora

August 2002
Convention Celebrates Bengali Diaspora

Held every 4th of July weekend, the North American Bengali Convention, popularly known as the ?Banga Sammelan? was held this year for the first time in Atlanta at the Georgia World Congress Center. This, the 22nd Bengali conference was hosted by South Eastern Bengali Association (SEBA)

This highly anticipated annual event attracts the ?Who?s Who? of the Bengali diaspora, along with internationally recognized artists and entertainers. Not to be outdone, the Atlanta convention showcased film star Rakhee Gulzar, pop singer Runa Laila, and renowned classical exponent Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, among others.

Banga Sammelan heralds the coming together of all sons and daughters of Bengali origin, which includes the state of West Bengal situated on the eastern part of India and the country of Bangladesh. The theme of the convention this year was ?Baul Mon Khoje Aponjon? (Migrant singer in search of his own kinsman). The convention regaled a people known for their appreciation of literature and the performing arts? and yes, adda (conversations) relished immensely by the Bengalis.

Men in dhotis and kurtas and ladies in the traditional Bengali Lal-paar (sarees with a red border) filled the auditorium with sights and sounds of Bengal that marked the three-day extravaganza. The aisles were bordered with paintings of 23 Bengali stalwarts. The style, d�cor and the hospitality reminded one of good old Kolkata. Most of the 5000 delegates who attended from all over the USA and Canada, were dressed in the traditional clothes.

The opening ceremony was marked with the traditional music from Bengal: ?Dhak?, ?Khol?, ?Kanshar? and the blowing of ?Sankha?(Conch Shell). In his inaugural speech, Chief Guest, His Excellency Mr. Lalit Mansingh, Ambassador of India to the US recognized the contributions of several remarkable Bengali figures like Swami Vivekananda, Rabindranath Tagore and Subhas Chandra Bose whose contributions to the nation have been exemplary.

The stage was adorned with the flags of India, Bangladesh, USA and Canada to represent the dignitaries, participants, and attendees who had come from all the above countries to join in on the celebrations. The conference commenced with the singing of the national anthem of all the four nations. A minute?s silence was observed as a mark of solidarity for the 9/11 disaster.

The inaugural group dance titled ?Parijayee ? The migrating birds?, based on experimental and creative dance style with Bengali folk music and songs was a reflection on the day-to-day life in the villages of Bengal. The concept, choreography and direction were by Sukalyan Bhattacharya whose exceptional performance enthralled all.

It was followed by a children?s dance drama ?Heeru Dakat? produced by SEBA with striking performances by the young ones.

The evening saw performances by noted artistes such as Roma Mondal, who sang several songs of Rabindranath Tagore. Other performances were by Chandrabali Rudra Dutta, folk songs by Swapan Basu, dance by Rituparna Sengupta. The ever popular Runa Laila managed to bring back childhood memories for many as she sang old favorites like ?Sadher Lau? and ?Allah Megh De?.

The next day of the three-day convention opened with presentations from several local Georgia artistes, to be followed by a ?Chhau Dance?, and a Bengali folk dance by Ranjani Group of New York. The morning?s program also included songs by Bengal luminary Dr. Anup Ghosal. The evening was marked by a Bengali drama ?Swarnavilla? which was a satire on the segment of Bengali elite whose judgment on people?s character rest on the language of money.

Popular local group, Sangeetkar (Music Makers) carried the evening further with their beautiful rendition of classical instrumentals. The entertainment continued with some foot tapping numbers from Jolly Mukherjee and Mou Mukherjee (JoJo) who were accompanied by a well-rehearsed orchestra from Kolkata. The golden, age-old songs of Rabindranath Tagore rendered beautifully by Indranil Sen ended the enjoyable afternoon.

With the evening, came world-class entertainment from such global luminaries as Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty. Along with sons Amaan and Ayan, the Ustad delivered an outstanding performance. The entertainment continued till the wee hours of the morning and the attendees finally left for home at 5:30 a.m., all with memories of a very fulfilling evening.

Saturday, the final day of the conference, was host to more live entertainment: ?Puratoni Gaan? (old time songs) by Buddhadeb Guha, ?Shristhi? a dance drama by Kallol, ?Kanchanranga?, Odissi dance by Shrabana Nath Biswas, ?Monobikalon?, a Sanskrit drama and recitation by noted Bengali film director Rituporno Ghosh.

There were several supplementary events that were successively held over the period of three days. A variety of seminars were organized which encouraged the interaction between the participants and attendees; reunion programs were introduced and noteworthy movies were screened. SEBA and North American Bengali Conference (NABC) 2002 organized an exhibition, ?In Search of Our Roots? to bring attendees a wide range of Bengal handicrafts on a scale never assembled before. The presentations were collected by a team from Mrittika Inc, a South Asian center for language and heritage. The exhibits were the result of team members who had personally visited villages and rural craft center throughout the area of West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The event culminated with a closing ceremony aptly named ?Ekshonge Cholo? (Lets walk together), rekindling the spirit of Bengali brotherhood.

- Swati Chowdhury

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