The drum beat heavily and a cheery voice pierced the airwaves. At noon last Saturday, the sound of the Nasankeerthana Mandali band kicked off the second day of the third annual Anandamela festival on the Ganga (main) Stage.
Thousands of guests showed up over the three-day event held at the Redmond City Hall campus. Some people whispered, others laughed loudly as they roamed through the market.
“Festival Anandamela means a festival of joy,” said volunteer Madhava Chandra Dasa. “So we want to share happiness with everyone, not just limited to Indians.”
This year, around 80 booths were set up. There were children’s favorites — ice cream and cotton candy stands were crowded with delighted young faces. Other booths offered traditional fare such as Chole Bhature, spicy peas with fried bread, and Pav Bhaj, which are baked, buttered breads. A line also formed behind the Bombay Chaat, which served popular street snacks such as Pani Puri.
“Redmond City Hall is a lovely campus, highly suited for an outdoor festival,” said artistic director Latha Sambamurti. “The location, facilities, staff support and the overall atmosphere we get at the Redmond City Hall cannot be beaten.”
One of the popular booths, “Wrap a Saree,” offered visitors a chance to try on the traditional Indian women’s garb.
According to owner Sangeeta Munoth, some saris are made specifically for very fancy events, while others are for casual occasions. Lighter materials such as cotton sateen are a favorite in tropical areas, while silk saris are preferred during the winter.
“This booth brings India closer,” said Munoth. “We want people outside of our community to come, get to know our culture and become one amongst us.”
In addition, a booth aimed at children called “Things Indian” featured alphabet charts, Indian comics and festival beads.
Interactivity was also a big theme this year.
Chess tables were set up for kids to compete against each other and an inflatable bouncy house enabled youngsters to let off steam.
“When children are given a good environment to grow and nourish, they grow up and become good citizens,” said Nanda Suta Das, director of the Vedic Cultural Center. “So education, culture and values go hand in hand throughout this festival.”
Beside the booths, clowns roamed around the market performing tricks and a magician pulled out a ladder out of his briefcase to entertain the guests.
For adults, there was a cooking contest. Fifteen participants brought traditionally prepared dishes famous in their regions, to be rated by a panel of judges. The dishes were strictly vegetarian; eggs, garlic and onion were also prohibited. The winner will later be announced, receiving new cookbooks or recipes as prizes.
The event was sponsored by the Vedic Cultural Center. Volunteers divided the booths into three categories: food, philosophy and children’s activities. Performances were held on two different stages, the Yamuna (secondary) Stage in addition to the Ganga Stage.
“People are learning more about each other and becoming more tolerant,” said Das.
At a certain point, girls from age 4 to 7 took to the center stage dressed in saris for a synchronized dance. Some seemed to have forgotten the moves and some continued by copying their neighbors. Nevertheless, the crowd cheered on, infatuated by their energy.
For more information and ideas for future Anandamela festivals, visit www.anandamela.org.
Joshua Chin is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.