Dushahra festival aims to promote Indian culture

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks

Staff Writer

Oct. 18 event to feature
music, dancing, food,
crafts and fireworks
Staff Writer

Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.Gov. James McGreevey offers his best wishes for the success of the Dushahra Festival 2003 to members of the organizing committee.

Cultural programs, music and dancing, actors in colorful costumes, Indian food and fireworks are all part of one of India’s most important festivals. That festival, the fifth Dushahra Festival 2003, is coming to Freehold Township on Saturday, Oct. 18 from noon to 8 p.m. The event, a celebration of the victory of good over evil, will be held at East Freehold Park on Kozloski Road.

Dushahra is one of the significant Hindu festivals, celebrated with much exultation throughout India, said Mangal Gupta, founding chairman of the event. "This occasion marks the triumph of Lord Ram, the incarnation of God on earth, over the demon king Ravan, or good over evil."

According to Gupta, he started the event after hearing from many Hindus living in America that they had never been to a Dushahra festival and their children had never even heard of it. The goal is to pass on Indian cultural heritage to future generations and to introduce other cultures to wonderful Indian traditions, he added.

Gupta said that one woman told him that she had been in the United States for 20 years, and her children, who were 7 and 10, had never seen the "Ramayana," the epic story of Ram and Ravan enacted by a cast of 50 actors in colorful costumes in a performance that usually lasts two hours.

The most important part of the festival is the burning in effigy of Ravan. Gupta said that one of the reasons why this may be the largest Dushahra festival in the country is because of the difficulty in constructing the effigy, which is 25 feet tall and made of bamboo covered with paper and cloth. The effigy is imported from India.

"This is the only festival being done on such a large scale, replete with dazzling fireworks. I’m getting calls from Chicago and California that they want to do it there."

Although it is not celebrated that widely in the United States, it is a festival that is celebrated all over India, north to south, east to west, Gupta said. "The schools are closed for 10 days," he noted.

He explained that "the man who does the fireworks lights the effigy. There are fire marshals present just in case, but we’ve never had a problem. In India they make it so nice. When they light it, the head goes separate from the body. I don’t know how they set it up to make that happen.

"For the children, it is fantastic. The theme is that evil is always defeated in the end. It gives the message that you should always try to be good. That is the message that children learn. Ravan dies in the end."

Gupta called it a guiding-light kind of story.

This is the third year that the festival is being held at East Freehold Park in Monmouth County. For the first two years, it was held in East Brunswick.

When Gupta first organized the festival, Middlesex County had the largest Indian population in the state with one of the highest concentrations in the Iselin section of Woodbridge. In fact, Iselin is sometimes referred to as Little India, Gupta said.

But the move to Freehold Township hasn’t hurt attendance. People come from all over, Gupta said, adding, last year, an estimated 10,000 people attended the event, including a number of state and local dignitaries.

This year, the special guest will be Lord Swraj Paul of the United Kingdom. According to Gupta, he is a lord of the House of Commons and a business ambassador of the British government. He travels worldwide with delegations to various counties, Gupta said.

"He immigrated to England a long time [ago]. He is going to inaugurate the festival with the lighting of the deepak, the inaugural lamp."

In addition to the Ram Leela performance of the battle between good and evil and dazzling fireworks at sundown, there will be a food and crafts fair, as well as rides and games, all part of a celebration of the best of Indian heritage and tradition.

Dushahra Festival

October 18

noon Festival opens

1:00 p.m. Welcome and cultural program

(organized by Uma Swaminathan and Sanjay Khanna)

5:00 p.m. Ram Leela Part I

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

6:00 p.m. Inauguration, lighting of the lamps, introduction

of committee members and honoring dignitaries

6:30 p.m. Ram Leela Part II

(directed by Padma Khanna and Jagdish Sidana of Indianica)

7:30 p.m. Walk to Ravan effigy & fireworks site

7:45 p.m. Burning of Ravan effigy

8:00 p.m. Fireworks display