This Indian Festival of Light aims to bring joy, happiness and luck into your life and when I attended the event on Saturday, joy, happiness and luck (for those with winning raffle tickets) abounded.
The MC for the afternoon, Gabrielle Fakhri, Cross-Cultural Trainer and Community Development and Welfare Consultant, acknowledged the traditional owners of the land before introducing official guests. She also acknowledged the generous support of Victoria’s Multicultural Commission when welcoming the VMC Commissioner Mr Chidambaram Srinivasan. First appointed in 2011, his current term is from 2013 to 2017.
Mr Chidambaram Srinivasan (known as ‘Srini’), has worked in the IT industry in Australia, India, Japan and USA for more than 32 years. He brings a variety of skills, empathy, knowledge and experience in the areas of technology, community and business (including small business) as well as volunteering for a charity. He has successfully worked in cross-cultural business and social contexts, thanks to his proficiency in multiple languages including English, Tamil, Japanese, Hindi, Bengali and Sanskrit. He has been a long standing supporter of cultural activities in the community.
Srini explained how Diwali was the biggest and brightest of all festivals – spiritually signifying the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.
The celebration in Mordialloc of many faiths, one community, allowing new cultural experiences and everyone present to learn about others. He encouraged those present to enjoy conversations and broaden understanding of each other’s customs because this was the way to social harmony and peaceful co-existence.
Victoria celebrates cultural diversity and in a recent poll, 86% agreed that multiculturism has been good for Australia. Government at all levels in Victoria encourage people to practise their faith and culture without discrimination. As a commissioner, he is a link between government and community and is also privileged to advise the government on policy.
Diversity is Australia’s strength, and we are fortunate people in the community appreciate this, and become dedicated to fostering harmony and peaceful co-existence. He commended Mordialloc Neighbourhood House as being a community hub promoting social inclusion and peaceful cohesion.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.
This is the second year, Lisa Sun, the manager at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House has organised the celebration of Diwali aiming to break down cultural barriers and to increase understanding of other faiths and cultures. An aim close to my heart and encouraged by the City of Kingston Council with the Mayor and some councillors present.
A month ago I attended the Eid Celebration at the same venue and although Diwali is a traditional Hindu celebration, there were people of Christian, Buddhist and Muslim faiths enjoying the afternoon. A reclaiming of the multicultural society that makes Australia such an exciting and peaceful place to live.
Gabrielle pointed out the beautiful Rangoli of coloured powder painstakingly drawn on the floor by several women and explained this sacred welcoming area for the Hindu deity Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth and prosperity, is common during Diwali and hoped everyone shared in the good luck.
Srini had mentioned that on 20 December 2013, the UN General Assembly 68th Session proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies a fitting juxtaposition for the spiritual celebration that is Diwali, a festival dating back to ancient times showing humankind has always recognised the importance of light. (A not surprising connection considering his CV!)
Light plays a vital role in our daily lives and is an imperative cross-cutting discipline of science in the 21st century. It has revolutionized medicine, opened up international communication via the Internet, and continues to be central to linking cultural, economic and political aspects of the global society…
… a global initiative adopted by the United Nations to raise awareness of how optical technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to worldwide challenges in energy, education, agriculture, communications and health.
Gabrielle focused on the inner spiritual light and introduced a representative who presented the priest Aditya Sharma from the Aumsai Sansthan Hindu Temple to bless the proceedings and encourage those present to light the candles on the rangoli. The representative from the temple, Srini and Tamsin were invited to share in the prayers and gift flowers and fruit to the deity. They removed their shoes out of respect before joining the priest at the shrine.
After the official guests had lit candles, members of the audience were invited to light a candle too. For many present this was the first time they’d been privileged to participate in a Hindu ceremony. Several faiths light candles at different times of the year. The meaningful rituals we share have more in common than we realise.
After the all-important blessing, there was the first of several draws on the door prize raffles – just to make sure some people had a kick-start on the promises of wealth and prosperity!
The entertainment by an array of fantastic singers and dancers demonstrated traditional Indian culture and the increasingly popular global phenomenon that is Bollywood. The audience loved it all. The first two young women sang traditional songs in Hindi; one praising Lord Krishna and the other sang a song from a popular movie.
The performers on stage added to the colour and light of the day, traditional costumes jangling and glittering. The flexibility, gracefulness and energy of the dancers, the epitome of joyous celebration whether from the expert adults to the enthusiastic children demonstrating their talent.
Sridevi Challapalli, the choreographer of the dance group who performed Muddu Gare Yasoda, a keerthana (hymn sung in the praise of God) written by the famous Indian mystic saint composer, Tallapaka Annamacharya, deserves a special mention for her talent. The songs praised Lord Venkateswara, the deity of Seven Hills in Tirumala, India where unbroken worship has been offered for over 12 centuries. Lord Vishnu manifested Himself as Lord Venkateswara. The song and dance adaptation a description of the mischievousness of Lord Krishna.
Sridevi runs the Sri Sai Nataraja Academy of Kuchipudi Dance, and two of the dancers are her twin daughters – their beautiful but elaborate costume and make-up takes an hour to prepare!
Another attractive dance display that left me gasping for breath was the energetic Saranya whose beauty and flexibility had the audience iPhone cameras struggling to keep up with her movements.
The costumes and expertly arranged hair of the dancers looked exquisite from the front or the back.
The classical and semi-classical dances all told stories, whether traditional tales or modern versions of love stories or everyday dramas. The dancers bodies and faces expressive and lively – you didn’t need to understand Hindi – some stories cross all language and cultural barriers! The young boys strutting their stuff could have auditioned for Grease.
The audience remained enthralled and respectful although plenty of mobile phone cameras worked overtime. Traditional Indian sweets were served with a complimentary bottle of water. Suresh had a stall with Indian clothes, jewellery and other small gifts. Another stall sold gorgeous sari length materials.
Hinduism is one of the great religions of the world and is also one of the most tolerant. Diwali, Festival of Light celebrated throughout the world at a time of year close to Christmas. Like Eid, there are similarities of gift giving, sharing, aiming to love one another and joyous celebration of life as well as light, bodes well for communities, like Mordialloc, who live in harmony and appreciate the richness of many faiths.
There were several memorable highlights of the afternoon, Sridevi’s young dancers a treat with their enthusiastic interpretation of a classic story.
However, the grand finale of two shy little girls singing Peter Combe’s Mr Clicketty Cane in English and then a final exhilarating Bollywood style dance of most of the youngsters in the room had me itching to join them on stage.
Memories of school concerts, kindergarten party pieces and fun family parties revived. What a successful afternoon. Special mention must be made of the sound technician who never missed a cue, the men who helped in the kitchen, and those stacking away the chairs when I left.
Community, Faith and Joy in action. What a great combination!