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Festival Of India Celebrates 20 Years In Charlotte

Twenty years ago, the inaugural Festival of India was held inside Spirit Square in uptown. It drew about 500 people. And every year since, the festival has gotten bigger as the Indian community in Charlotte grows.

This weekend, more than 20,000 people attended the festival.

  

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Credit Tasnim Shamma
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Lal Vishin is president of the India Association of Charlotte. His group organizes the Festival of India every year.

LalVishin is president of the India Association of Charlotte. He says the festival is just another sign of how large the Indian-American community has grown. When he first moved to Charlotte from New York in 1980,

"I would say it was just a few hundred families, we now have 6,000 families just in the larger Charlotte area and more in the outlying Mecklenburg County, so we're a growing and influential community that is growing every day," Vishin says.   

Tom Hanchett, a historian with the Levine Museum of the New South, agrees.

He says that after Mexico, people from the Indian subcontinent make up the second largest immigrant group in Charlotte.  

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A display of some of the spices used in Indian cooking at Founder's Hall. The theme for this year's festival was food.

Organizers say one of the goals of the festival is to showcase the diversity of Indians. There are 29 states and thousands of dialects spoken in India. Amit Parikh has been helping coordinate the festival since 1995.

"There is lots of commonalities, but we have different foods, different costumes, different languages," Parikh says. 

This festival is a chance for Indian-Americans who usually hold their own smaller gatherings in Charlotte to get together in one place and invite others to learn about the culture. 

I don't want us to be an object of curiosity and novelty: our food, our dance forms, our literature. I want that to go mainstream as many other communities have done. That's my dream. - Lal Vishin

The Festival of India costs more than $75,000 to put on, with more than 900 artists who performed during the two-day event. Inside, there was a film festival, art gallery, food exhibit, fashion show and a lot of music. 

There's a separate stage outdoors on the corner of Trade and Tryon. Six-year-old RichaShukulsays she likes performing the contemporary Bollywood dance styles and also a classical dance form called Kathak from North India. Kathak is also a form of story-telling through dance.  

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Credit Tasnim Shamma
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Arjun Shukul and his sister Richa at the Festival of India.

Every year, Richa spends a few months rehearsing. But this year, she's wearing a cast around her right arm.

"I danced here when I had two hands," she says. I ask her if she's sad she can't dance this year. She pauses. "I'm sad that I can't perform, but I'm happy that I don't need to go to practice!"

Her older brother, ten-year-old Arjun Shukul, says their family visits India every summer. But he says this is a good substitute.

"It's one of the best places to go if you want to know about India rather than pay like a lot of money just to go there," Arjun says. "You can just come here."