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Charlotte hosts Indian festival

By Hilary Sayre
On September 18, 2013


How often do you see a street full of people wearing brightly colored saris and jewelry, baking curries and samosas and playing traditional Carnatic music? In Charlotte, hundreds gather each year to participate in or witness this combination. At the 19th Annual Festival of India at the Blumenthal this past weekend, the Carolinas got to experience a little slice of Indian life and culture all along North Tryon street.


Upon arriving and buying a ticket (for only $5), I continued into the Belk Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center and took a seat. Though the performances had started an hour ago, the auditorium was only half-full. People wandered in and out, watch- ing groups they liked and leaving when they became tired or hungry.


The nimble young girls dancing on stage were captivating. Wearing simple dresses and ankle bells called ghungroos, they flitted across the stage barefooted and performed long and complex numbers with seeming ease. Their body movements, often com- prised of head bobbing and hand twirling, tried to capture the rasa (mood) of the music to which they danced.



Next, I decided to visit the art gallery and tea garden exhibit in the Founder's Hall atrium next door. I had a lengthy conversation with one knowledgeable Indian woman about the three tea farming states (Himachal Pradesh and Assam in the north and Kerala in the south) and watched a photo slideshow of her own family at one of their farms.


I was surprised to learn that tea farming is a predominantly female occupation, only requiring men for the factory and shipping elements of the business. Noticing that my friend eyed a traditional wedding setup in the corner, the woman proceeded to grab her hand, plop her down in the chair, and dress her up in a modified version of tradition- al Indian wedding garb-and naturally, the woman insisted I dress up next.


She told us that a normal bride takes six hours to get ready, and the sari and jewels we tried on were actually part of her own wedding attire that she had saved. I was stunned that this complete stranger so readily adorned us with such personal items, considering most American brides package up their dress the moment they finish wearing it.


We thanked her for the funny yet enlightening experience and walked out to the street vendor section of the festival. Though I had my eye on a few of the bejeweled saris and earrings, I settled on a piping hot plate of samosas, which are veggie or meat-filled fried pastries, and knew I had chosen well-they were absolutely delicious!


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