HOUSTON CELEBRATES “INCREDIBLE INDIA”
The fourth largest city of the United States - Houston spotlighted India on two weekends April 23-24 & April 30- May 1, 2005 at the Annual Houston International Festival. The Incredible India Zone in 16 acres in Downtown Houston captured the diverse sights and sounds of India and presented the rich culture of India in multiple interactive exhibits and attractions. Center Stage hosted spectacular and colorful performances of folk dances from Eastern state of Manipur and Western state of Rajasthan, a Bollywood extravaganza of music, dance, comedy and costumes, ending daily with a Bhangra party.
The International Festival was inaugurated by Ambassador Ronen Sen & Mayor Bill White on Friday 22 April 2005. At the inaugural, Ambassador Sen highlighted the common values of the two countries - Democracy, Secularism & Multi-cultural ethos. He said that the Festival would give the Houstonians an opportunity to witness the diversity as well as rich cultural heritage of India.
The Festival is the result of two years of preparations initiated by Consul General Skand Tayal with chairman Robert Sakowitz and President Jim Austin of the Festival Board. India's Department of Tourism, Indian Council of Cultural Relations & the Handicrafts Board participated to bring a flavor of India to the Festival.
The elite of Houston gathered in the evening of 22nd April at a glittering Gala hosted by Mayor Bill White in honor of Ambassador Sen. Proceeds benefit the Houston Festival Foundation's year-round arts, education and outreach programs.
Consul General Skand Tayal played a pivotal role in preparation of a Teacher's Curriculum guide "Spotlighting India" produced by the Festival that has been distributed free to more than 1100 schools in the Houston Area. Asia Society of Houston is coordinating a program with Indian- American volunteers to teach about India in more than fifty schools.
The Festival kicked off with a Business Conference " India's Emerging Role in the New Global Economy" organized by the Consulate General of India along with Greater Houston Partnership, Indo-American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Houston and TiE.
Satisfied with the very successful culmination of the festival -with preparations spread over two years- Consul General of India Skand Tayal, said that "iFest success is far beyond our expectations."
Nearly perfect weather for two weekends and the exotic appeal of India drew a large enthusiastic crowd of over 200,000 people, said Robert Sakowitz, Chairman of the Festival. "Fabulous", Sakowitz said "people were really interested in what India was all about."
The Incredible India Zone in the Festival was designed like an Indian village with two stages for live music, live demonstration of cricket, Kabaddi and Kho-Kho, a 30-feet high effigy of Ravana and a huge replica of the Puri Temple Chariot. The Taj Mahal created by Artist Sudarshan Patnaik from Orissa with 25 tonnes of sand was a huge draw with people lining up for taking pictures against its background. The India Tourist Office sponsored the Sand Artist and also a Bollywood Dance Group from New York which brought the audience to the stage dancing to Indian film tunes.
Texan Sitarist David Courtney, his vocalist wife Chandra and their pupils gave live demonstration of Indian musical instruments. There were dancers in brilliant coloured dresses, young Sikh martial art performers, Asian elephant photo booth, antiques, henna artists, yoga demonstration and of course Indian food.
The Center Stage was brought alive by the folk dances of Rajasthan and the martial dances of Manipur - two groups sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations. The delicate Indian traditional crafts were showcased by four Master Craftsmen sponsored by the Handicrafts Board of India who demonstrated the fine art of miniature painting, carpet weaving, sandalwood carving and hand block printing.
The music stage was surrounded by four gates representing the four regions of the country. The designs of the Meenakshi Temple Gopuram and the Swan Gate created by BAPS volunteers attracted a multitude of admirers.
At the 'Literature of India' Pavilion eminent Indian-American authors read from their works. The audience was spellbound by the 'Abhinaya' of well known Bharat Natyam dancer Ratna Kumar to the evocative prose of Chitra Divakaruni, author of the acclaimed 'Mistress of Spice".
The India Culture Center coordinated the presentation of Indian music and dance choreographed by the numerous dance schools flourishing in Houston. Kannada Vrinda, BAPS, Gandhi Library, Andhra Association, Chimaya Mission and many other community organizations presented Indian folk arts and traditions in a very creative and interesting manner.
The Festival was an educational experience for the visitors giving them a flavour of the rich diversity of the Indian society, the vibrancy of its religions and the beauty of its culture.
In a Special Supplement the local weekly "Indo-American News" observed that "Ah, it was good to be an Indian in Houston!".