Everywhere I turned, I faced a riot of color. Pumpkin oranges, paprika reds, spinach greens, sunflower yellows, glamorous gold’s and every other captivating color imaginable. It was an amazing visual feast.
My husband and I were not in some exotic, far-away land; in fact, we were at Katara in Doha, Qatar for the second annual two-day Indian Festival this past weekend. The performers, along with the thousands of Indian expat women and children garbed in traditional dress, displayed their love of vibrant clothing colors woven into their cultural fabric. They certainly proved they were guardians of their homeland’s cultural clothing tradition. An amazing 500,000 Indians live in Qatar.
Culinary and Cultural Diversions
Food stalls set up along the Katara esplanade featured traditional and popular Indian fare, including tandoori chicken, masala dosa, biryani, naan and various kebabs. Although shawarmas are not a typical Indian dish, one food stall was selling camel shawarmas – a first in Doha – and I could not resist. It was tender and delicious. My husband enjoyed the Indian food, which is far too spicy for my palate.
With a full belly, it was much easier to begin navigating the crowded stalls that featured jewelry, Sari designs and traditional female Indian clothing, paintings and handicrafts. I couldn’t resist a black beaded necklace with an accompanying black bracelet. Bob chose a handsome homemade teakwood comb for himself.
Individual stalls highlighted various regions and states of India. For example, Karnataka, a southern state known for its sari fabric designs, had colorful material on display along with some of the spices indigenous to that area. Another stall – from the state of Ponjaya – depicted portrait and paintings on glass and silk, while still another had fabulous photographs on display of nature’s splendor in waterfalls.
Set against the backdrop of the sea, one of the main festival attractions was a replica of the famed India Gate – constructed on the esplanade and rising just shy of 33 feet high. The India Gate is a national edifice – and some say synonymous with India – and a massive war monument in the heart of New Delhi, India, I learned. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lufyens and built between 1921 and 1931 in the shape of a triumphal arch. The gate was built to commemorate the 90,000 Indian soldiers in the British-Indian army, who sacrificed their lives in World War 1 and the Afghan War for the Indian Empire. The gate’s inscription prominently states this.
According to Indian Cultural Center president Girish Kumar, the gate replica was built “to symbolize the nation, to mark the entry to the festival, and to inspire overseas Indians, families and children to pay tribute to the heroes who sacrificed their lives. Even on a joyous occasion as this festival, we shouldn’t forget them.”
As the late afternoon unfolded, we made our way to the amphitheater. A sweeping view of the huge stone structure confirmed my suspicions: It was to be a full house this evening.
As the sun slowly dropped from its spotlight in the sky and dusk began to spread about, multi colored lights on the stage flickered alive. For me, the main feature was about to begin. India has quite the layered cultural history I was about to discover.
The emcee proudly explained to the throng of thousands, who were primarily Indian but a decent representation of Arabs and Western expats as well, that in India, dancing correlates with happy occasions and official celebrations, both of which hold social significance. Dancers and performers this evening were about to partake in homespun storytelling put to music and folk dance. “Each dance conveys a specific story, and each state has special dances, clothes and music,” the emcee announced.
The opening act featured a group of various aged youth demonstrating karate moves and poses. Their act was followed one after another for the next two hours of jaw-dropping costumes that dominated the color palette. Each stage performance was a sensory extravaganza. The vivid, colorful performers and dancers – all students from various Doha middle and high schools – presented a mix of classical and folk dance featuring the different facets of India.
Despite the majority of the songs in an unfamiliar language, the audience’s enthusiasm combined with the high energy of the performers shown through providing entertaining dances and stories that were obviously preserving their time-honored traditions.
Indian culture, often termed as an amalgamation of several cultures, spans across the Indian subcontinent and has been influenced by a history that is several millennia old. The country consists of 29 states, seven union territories and a population of 1.2 billion. It is the world’s second most populous country.
The festival highlighted an interesting mosaic of a people from India’s 29 states through displays, music and folk dances, which share a diverse culture. Clicking away, I fervently tried to capture as many moments as possible digitally.
Kumar stated that the objective of the festival was to “get together and share the wealth of India’s vibrant cultures, to embrace differences that make our country unique, and to discover similarities that unite people regardless of their origin. We wanted to provide a platform to come together to present India’s great cultural diversity to a multi-lingual, multi-cultural audience of Qatar.”
The charm of India’s past appears well intact, and its heritage was beautifully portrayed this evening through music and dance. With my photos and video, I can now revisit my brief passage to Incredible India over and over again.