By: Roshni S. Lalchandani, Cave Spring High School
While most people eagerly anticipate the arrival of the new year, it has already started for Roanoke’s vast Hindu community.
Deepavali, more commonly referred to as Diwali, is known as the festival of lights and marks the start of the new year in India. To celebrate the occasion, the Indian Heritage Society in Roanoke organized the 2013 Diwali Mela (Mela is the Hindi word for fair) on Nov. 10 at the Roanoke Civic Center. With more than 600 people in attendance, the holiday celebration proved to be a grand success.
The Diwali Mela took several months to plan, though the hard work paid off.
One of the event organizers was Kamlesh Javeri.
“The goal of the Diwali Mela was to introduce the typical Indian culture of the festival of lights to the local public of Roanoke,” he said. “We focused on bringing out the talents of the Indian community as well.”
And talented it was. The entertainment continued nonstop throughout the evening, with performances of singing and dancing from Roanoke’s own Indian population.
One of the performers, Nayana Shree, a junior at Cave Spring High School, performed a dance to the song “Vande Mataram,” which was a particular hit with the audience.
When asked why she chose to perform, she said, “I love to dance. I have been dancing at all the Indian festivals that Roanoke’s hosted.”
Shree then said she chose the song because of its patriotic lyrics about India.
Entertainment was not all the event had to offer. The Mela also had a variety of Indian cuisine for guests to try, traditional clothes and jewelry to purchase, and a rangoli contest. Rangoli is an Indian folk art that uses bright colors to decorate the entrance of one’s home, commonly done for the occasion of Diwali. The grand prize for winning the contest was a new Apple iPad Air. Another iPad was also offered to the winner of a heated raffle drawing toward the end of the program. Other prizes offered in the raffle were cameras, televisions and a variety of gift cards.
Originally, Roanoke’s Hindu community celebrated Diwali with dinner and performances. However, this year they wanted something more.
“We usually have a celebration at Elmwood Park in downtown Roanoke every August for India’s Independence Day. But because of construction issues, that didn’t happen this year. So the IHS decided to have an even more outstanding Diwali function,” Hidden Valley senior Anjali Patel said.
Patel worked as one of four teen MCs at the Mela. She said she was nervous about speaking in front of such a large audience but enjoyed it in the end.
“I’m just really glad I got to share my culture with so many people and be a part of this wonderful celebration.”
Overall, the Indian Heritage Society managed to bring the festivities of Diwali all the way from India to Roanoke, attracting visitors from all over Virginia. The sacred holiday may have just passed, but many are already looking forward to next year’s festival.