On Saturday 4 November, Fed Square came alive with the most awaited, magical Diwali celebrations.
The Victorian Festival of Diwali festivities presented a breathtaking cultural feast of folk, classical and contemporary dances, soul stirring live music, craft for children, dance workshop, henna, fun-filled interactive activities for the whole family, a bustling bazaar, delectable Indian cuisine and stunning fireworks display on the Yarra.
Like in the past, to make our celebrations more meaningful and relevant to our adopted society, this time also, Celebrated India was raising funds and awareness for a good cause – mental health and had joined hands with Beyond Blue, making the festival a Blue Diwali. The Blue Diwali festival was launched on Tuesday October 31 at the MCG, at the MCC’s Committee Room to culminate at Fed Square on Saturday, November 4.
We have also had Pink Diwali, raised funds for White Ribbon and there would hardly be any social cause not embraced by the team over the years.
Rather than giving an account of what was presented this year, I would like to reflect on the broader and much wider contribution this Diwali @Fed Square has made to Victoria over the last 18 years.
While the festival was celebrated by many Indian groups and organizations every year since their arrival in Australia since the mid-1960s, the crowds and gatherings were parochial and provincial based on the origins of people organizing it.
While the cultural and religious messages were delivered, the biggest drawcard used to be the humble, local politician invited so that members attending could take photos to decorate their cornices for the next 12 months.
That was pretty much the claim for it to be a multicultural festival, not that it needed to be.
Then came the team of Celebrate India led by Former Honorary Consul for India in Melbourne Dr T. J. Rao, Mr. Arun Sharma, Mrs. Jaya Sharma, Dr Virendra Berera who decided to, what I called back in 2007 (its second year), put the festival of Diwali on Melbourne’s cultural map.
In 2007, the second year of Diwali@Fed Square, one could really multicultural crowd swelling to more than 25,000, having gone up from 12,000 – 15,000 in its inaugural year.
Just a glance slid over from left to right – standing outside the Flinders Street station – would confirm, all Melbournians, not just Indian, had embraced the festival of Diwali.
Over the years, the group led by Mr. Sharma, not only added to its cultural content, they innovated its social significance to marry the message of the victory of good over evil and light over darkness to – ‘give back’ to our new country which had given us so much.
The popularity grew astronomically making the ‘selfie culture’ almost a mere formality, more of a ‘tick’ for the politicians, who I, in complete deference, say would make a beeline today to attend.
The festival of Diwali@Fed Square grew so big for the former Premier Daniel Andrews, who attended it religiously while in office and wanted it to grow to be the World’s biggest celebration of Diwali.
It was not surprising last year, an election year, to see Daniel Andrews hosting a Diwali reception for the Victoria Indian community.
His successor, Premier Jacinta Allan, has continued the tradition this year and hosted a state reception for Diwali on November 10 hosting more than a thousand people from the Victorian India community.
And the tradition, if continued by the Labor government, will be difficult for any future Coalition government in Victoria to end.
This begs the question, how have we come this far?
In the mid-1960s I am told Victorian Indians celebrated Diwali in batches of a few, sharing a plate they would take to someone’s flat/place.
It grew to be a festival which would then move to someone’s garage (whoever had that sized house and a garage).
Looking at the trajectory – from a humble flat, then garage to the MCC Committee Room at the MCG, the festival has really caught the attention of the high and mighty in our state, Premier of Victoria included.
Clearly, the festival stands tall as the permanent imprint of our culture and traditions on Victorian social psyche today.
I think, we all need to say a big THANK YOU to the team of Celebrate India, particularly Mr. Arun Sharma and his wife Mrs. Jaya Sharma for their innovative and socially conscious leadership to successfully build this huge bridge between the Victorian Indian community and the mainstream society.
Well done Celebrate India and their associate partners and volunteers!
A side note: Although Premier Jacinta Allan hosted Diwali Reception, the festival, it seems, did not rate well enough (for her minders???) to find space on her Facebook page for a mention or photos. Her colleagues who attended the function posted multiple images from the night.