IACA organizes Festival of India 2021
A crowd of over 2000 attendees gathered to celebrate India’s 75th Independence Day, at the Festival of India (FOI) hosted by the India American Cultural Association (IACA) on August 15, 2021, at the Gas South Convention Center. The celebrations were trifold with IACA stepping into its golden jubilee year and its flagship event, Festival of India (FOI), celebrating its silver jubilee year.
[Left] Many in-person cultural events marked the celebration of Festival of India by IACA.
Another trifold jubilation to the tricolor flag came in the form of three proclamations initiated by IACA with declarations of August 15, 2021, as India Day in the state of Georgia by Governor Brian Kemp, in Gwinnett County by Chairwoman Hendrickson, and in Cobb County by Commissions Chairwoman Lisa Cupid.
“A sense of purpose for 50 years, fulfillment for 25 years, and a clear path for new IACA 2.0 is how I would summarize this event,” stated Chand Akkineni, President, IACA, who conceptualized the concept of FOI back in 1997.
“I appreciate your leadership in building strong relations between India and the state of GA. We are proud of the contributions made by the Indian community in the fields of technology, medicine, academics, politics, the judicial system, the arts and more; and that’s why I am honored to proclaim August 15 as India Day in the state of GA,” said Governor Kemp in his video message congratulating IACA, FOI and its leadership.
The guests of honor included Attorney General of Georgia, Honorable Chris Carr; Honorable Consul General of India, Dr. Swati Kulkarni; Chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners from Cobb County, Honorable Lisa N. Cupid; and Chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners from Gwinnett County, Honorable Nicole Hendrickson. Wing commanders from Indian Army, Ayub Khan, N.K. Johri, wives of Paramveer Chakra winners Mrs. Kumar and Mrs. Madhu, enhanced the patriotic flavor of the occasion. Bollywood actress Pooja Batra added to the glamor quotient as the celebrity guest.
Recalling opening of Surya carpets with Governor Nathan Deal in Bartow County, AG. Carr noted that while business was at the heart of what they did, the soul lay in the cultural aspects. “Georgia’s Indian community is so wonderful, vibrant. One of the things Georgia and India share is the film and entertainment industry that is vibrant and exciting. I will always strive to protect lives and livelihoods,” he said.
“I can’t tell you how grateful I am to live and work in a county that makes it a point to keep cultural traditions alive. In Gwinnett, we honor our diverse communities and celebrate the vibrant cultures that connect all of us,” said Chairwoman Hendrickson.
Accompanied by the vivacious folk dance Lezim by vibrantly clad men and women in traditional Maharashtrian attire, the crowd gathered outside to kick off the celebrations with Flag Walk that marshaled a huge group with representations from diverse community organizations of various states of India across Atlanta. Community leaders including Akkineni, Dr. Paddy Sharma, Vir Nanda, Ani Agnihotri, Vishwanath Ganti, Kaushal Tripathi, Ram Maddi carried the 300 feet-long Indian flag with Batra as Flag Marshall.
Speaking on the occasion Dr. Kulkarni said, “Independence Day is an occasion when we reaffirm commitment to those great men and women, all our freedom fighters, who fought for and sacrificed so much for the freedom we enjoy today. It is also an occasion to look back and pause on various tenants of the constitution such as justice, liberty equality and fraternity.”
[Top] Dr. Swati Kulkarni and Pooja Batra presented with bouquets at the Festival of India.
“As a core committee member of the inaugural event in 1997 as well as 25th Festival of India, I am delighted that we (IACA) could cross this milestone. During the entire planning, we were not sure how things would shape up in terms of participation and attendance. Thanks to Covid-19 testing procedure and mask conditions, things turned up better than expected. Hard work and enthusiasm of dozens of volunteers and over 250 performers really paid rich dividends. Some of the items were mesmerizing and fired the patriotic emotions in the audience. It was an honor to invite and welcome the dignitaries,” noted Ani Agnihotri, BOD, IACA.
“FOI this year was a great celebration and tribute to our Janma Bhoomi and Karma Bhoomi! Celebrating 75th India Independence Day, 25th FOI during the IACA Golden Jubilee year is my honor!” said Vishwanth Ganti, BOD, IACA.
Various events had been planned throughout the year, including international women’s day celebrations, author events, yoga and health seminars. All of them had been online, except for Rhythms of India.
With FOI planned in-person, to ensure safety, IACA teamed up with Indian Friends of Atlanta (IFA) and Lab Elite to set a strict protocol for attendees, invited guests and participants to have a rapid antigen test conducted and entry only with a negative test result. The community responded, and the event featured well over 40 booths that showcased various products and services.
A special edition souvenir featuring the history of IACA and FOI was released by Dr. Kulkarni accompanied by Souvenir Committee Chair Bina Desai as well as editors Chand Akkineni and Jyothsna Hegde.
Brimming with activities, FOI 2021 featured a brand-new segment: a Fireside Chat with accomplished Atlanta luminaries discussing the creation of wealth and giving back to society. The chat was moderated by Padma Bhushan Dr. Jag Sheth with Harsha Agadi, Subramonian Shankar, Dr. Jay Yadav and Mitesh Shah as panelists.
“One of the most challenging tasks on hand was to put together a high-quality cultural program that reflected truly the diverse Indian diaspora! After meticulous planning and working closely with all the performing teams, we were able to stage 45 high-quality items in front of a live audience! We had it all: from folk to modern, from Indian to Western, from the reputed to the newest kid on the block, we covered a lot of ground! There was never a dull moment! This FOI will remain very special to me!” said Cultural Committee Chair Dr. Raktim Sen and Bhavini Subramani agreed. Both were part of the inaugural FOI.
Onake Obavva by Nrupathunga Kannada Koota, featuring an everyday woman who fought enemies with a wooden pestle, elevated the patriotic fervor. Atlanta Idol winner’s rendition of Ekadantaya was memorable.
The new western segment featured Raji Venkat who mesmerized the audience with her operatic performance. Ash Chandler bedazzled the audience with his English and Spanish renditions.
“We honor students from Indian community in financial need and also their educational achievements,” said Dr. Paddy Sharma, Chair, India American Scholarship Fund (IASF). “We awarded 17 students this year,” noted Kris Gadde, Co-Chair, IASF.
‘Shringar,’ the fashion show conceptualized and directed by Geetanjali Talukdar, along with the background score featuring Lakme Fashion-fame designer Prieya Saluja, costume designer Malyaan by Maria Taimur, Sumana Goswami as master choreographer, and Tina Mir as main coordinator. Portraying transcending fashion trends from the pre-historic era to the styles of today, ‘Shringar’ concluded with Bollywood’s Pooja Batra as the showstopper.
‘Shades of India’ featured an exquisite collection of art pieces by 19 local Indian-American artists skillfully curated by Malika Ghosh Garrett and Minnie Bhupathi.
The Yoga Seminar featured Sriram Iyer from Art of Living, Rajashree Kanitkar from Isha Yoga, Sathiya Soman from Sathiya Soman Yoga, and Yogesh Patil from Heartfulness.
Dr. Nalini Saligram, founder and CEO of Arogya World, spoke about India, Diabetes and Covid-19. The Women’s Panel moderated by Neeti Dewan, with Prachi Gupta, Ayesha Khanna and Lovely Dhillon as panelists, examined how women can support each other.
“The Festival of India was done in the true spirit of the celebration of 75th anniversary of Independence Day and the Golden Jubilee of IACA. In spite of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was good attendance and everybody enjoyed the high-quality performances, the fashion parade, the presentation of scholarships, and the comments by the dignitaries,” said Vir Nanda, Chairman, IACA BOD.
Blood Donation drive by LifeSouth, Bone Marrow Drive by Be the Match, and donations for Atlanta Community Food Bank as well as Green Cell Atlanta were part of the Lend a Hand initiative. TAMA Chess, Drawing by ThemeWorks, and Public Speaking by Tyla kept the kids occupied.
An event of this magnitude and scale is a balancing act supported by many of its pillars, especially the volunteers. “Virtual volunteers created digital media; event coordination volunteers spent several hours on phone coordinating; pre-event setup volunteers helped hang banners, place signboards, set up the volunteer’s booth and worked from 8 am to 7pm on the day of the event. Thanks much to all the Lead and Youth Volunteers that made this possible!” said Synthia Padala, Volunteer Lead.
“Looking back at 25 years of FOI journey, I see FOI as a platform for demographics and generations to come together and endless possibilities limited only by the imagination of the organizers,” reflected Kaushal Tripathi, BOD IACA.
Akkineni thanked all the sponsors, supporting organizations and volunteers who collectively contributed to the success of the event.
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