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“Flame of Independence” spearheads annual Festival of India

Mahadev Desai
September 2009
“Flame of Independence” spearheads annual Festival of India

India American Cultural Association (IACA) held its 13th annual Festival of India, in celebration of India’s 62nd Independence Day, at the Gwinnett Center on Saturday, Aug. 15.

The theme of this year’s festival, which entertained an estimated 5,000 people, was to fuse together the spirit and heritage of the Indian community’s land of origin (India) with their adopted land (USA). This was accomplished through the “Flame of Independence,” which began its journey at the Gandhi Statue, near the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site and King Center.

“This year the symbolic flame has taken on a historic role linking American independence with Indian independence and beginning at the historic site that embodies the Civil Rights Movement,” said FOI Program Director Padma Rallapalli.

After the “Flame of Independence” was ceremoniously lit by Rallapalli and Isaac Farris, CEO of the King Center, it traveled from the Gandhi Statue to East Cobb, Johns Creek, Lilburn and Jonesboro over a five-week period, before being received amidst patriotic fervor and jubilation at the Gwinnett Center in a grand finale.

Despite the economic downturn, all 60 booths in the main hall were taken, according to FOI’s stalwart committee member Chand Akkineni, who had his own booth, ‘IT JOB Café.’ Vendors sold Indian apparel, jewelry, toys, games, insurance, travel and many other goods and services. Atlanta’s popular Madras Grill, Sarvana Bhavan, Moksha and Udipi Café Restaurants did brisk business selling food and beverages. The booth-renters were pleased that the stage for the cultural show was in the same hall as it drew more people to the booths.

The mammoth show, from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., showcased the talents of about 150 participants, dressed in colorful Indian costumes. The day opened with a prayer and song from the Prajna group, followed by melodious singing by Sujatha Rayburn and team. Throughout the day, young performers presented a mix of Bollywood, traditional folk and fusion dances, songs, comedy; martial arts and game shows. The entertainment included innovative items like ‘family gol maal’ and ‘Anthakshari,’ as well as “So you think you can dance.” The Bollywood quiz competitions were a huge hit.

The cultural show area was packed with an appreciative and admiring audience, who applauded several captivating folk dances, the veena ensemble and the classical Hindustani and patriotic songs, as well as other acts.

Children at the festival were kept engaged and entertained by Devanand Kondur and Leena Joshi. In addition to activities like bead-making, lemon and spoon races, and quiz competitions, there were art competitions, handwriting and essay competitions. Joshi, who runs ‘Theme Works’ Creative Art Classes for Kids and Adults at Alpharetta and Global Mall locations, conducted an art competition for children in three age groups. The first-place winners were Shijini Das and Avanti (age 6 to 7); Harshit Garla (age 8 to 10); and Sohil Shamsunder and Shweta Bhat (age 11 to 12).

Rebecca Kelly, co-founder of The Cat’s Meow (TCM), a life enrichment center, conducted an essay competition. Devneet Singh, a 5th grader at Mason Elementary School, Duluth, won the contest with her essay “What a Peacock means to me.”

Among the dignitaries who attended the festival were Atlanta Councilman Kwanza Hall, Judy Forte of the National Park Service and Doug Shipman, executive director of the Center for Civil & Human Rights. “It means a lot for the City of Atlanta to have a meaningful and fruitful partnership with IACA,” Hall said.

Diana Preston, Mayor of Lilburn, was one of several people bestowed with the "Friends of India (FOI)" award for their support to the Indian community by participating in the “Flame of Independence” ceremonies in their respective counties. “I have had the opportunity to know more about Indian culture, food, traditions and values,” she said. “The school system has brought in wonderful students from your community and I know that with them, our future is secure.”

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