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IACA Festival of India honors lunar milestone and 77th Independence Day

JYOTHSNA HEGDE

Atlanta, GA, September 1, 2023: “India is now on the Moon!” ISRO Chief Sreedhara Panicker Somanath declared as India became the 1st nation to land on the Moon’s south pole.

India marked its 77th Independence Day celebrations this August 15 with an outpouring of national pride and a renewed determination to forge towards a prosperous future as the monumental mission, Chandrayaan-3 marked its presence on the lunar south pole, considered to be difficult for its rough and harsh conditions, and fourth – after the US, China, and Russia – to have successfully landed on the moon’s surface. And for this to happen during India’s G20 presidency year, also heralded the emergence of India as the new geopolitical power backed with technological advancement and innovation.

Reflecting this, the community spiritedly converged at the Festival of India (FOI), the resplendent celebration of Indian Independence, hosted by India American Cultural Association (IACA) at the Gas South Center on August 13, 2023. With close to 6000 attendees, over 50 cultural performances including two fashion shows, 100 vendors, and a flag march, FOI 23 was a spectacular success showcasing and honoring India beyond seven seas.

“In our mother country India; many festivals are celebrated to celebrate life. In Atlanta, IACA brings an Indian way of celebrating life. FOI 2023 brought a wave of excitement and happiness to hundreds of participants and thousands of visitors speckled with an ample dose of colors, music, dance, folk songs, food, and friends, all rolled into a wholesome package. An experienced IACA team worked very hard to bring a curated list of the most popular, vibrant and widely liked programs,” Ani Agnihotri, Chairman, IACA told NRI Pulse.

“I’m honored to extend my warmest regards to you at the annual Festival of India. This exciting celebration marks an important milestone for freedom and democracy, while honoring the significance of your cultural heritage,” Governor Brian Kemp said in his message.

Dignitaries and VIP addresses at the event included messages from Hon. Congresswoman Lucy McBath, Representative-Georgia’s 7th Congressional District A Message from Hon. Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, United States Senator, delivered by Katrina Cochran, Proclamation for FOI 2023 by Hon. Nicole Love Hendrickson, Chairwoman, Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners, presented by Ms. Shaunieka Taste, Director, Public Relations, Gwinnett County Government, address by Rahul Samant, CIO, Delta Airlines, Hon. Lisa Cupid, Chairwoman, Cobb County Board of Commissioners, Mr. Kandhaswamy Raju, Consul (Head of Chancery) & First Appellate Authority, and Kirkland Carden, Gwinnett Commissioner. Dignitaries echoed similar sentiments, commending the contributions of the Indian community to Atlanta and the world in their congratulatory wishes for Indian Independence.

Actor/Anchor Neha Dhupia, and celebrity Designer Rohit Verma added glamor and glitz, enhancing the festival with Bollywood flavor.

“One of the big missions we all serve as part of being the diaspora in the US is that we are great connectors, and we build bridges between the world’s oldest democracy (USA) and the world’s most populous democracy (India)… This is such a high-energy and joyful celebration, and I want to thank IACA and I want to thank my friend, Kaushal Tripathi and his team. This is a true labor of love,” Rahul Samant, CIO, Delta, said.

At fifty-three, the oldest Indian American organization in Atlanta, India American Cultural Association (IACA) has stood the test of time, braving through evolving social, economic, and political landscapes in the city and its people, Indian Americans, in particular. In an effort to help famine victims in West Bengal, a group of individuals in Atlanta charted a non-profit organization, IACA, on December 10, 1970, to raise funds and channel it through Red Cross to India. FOI was conceptualized in 1997 by Chand Akkineni (BOD), his Executive team, and the Board headed by Mr. Ram Sidhaye to commemorate the 50th anniversary of India’s independence.

“Since its inception over 50 years ago, IACA has strived to give our Indian American community a platform to celebrate their heritage. The annual Festival of India is an attempt to connect one of the pivotal moments in a nation’s history to our home away from home,” Rina Gupta, BOD, IACA, noted.

Dhupia, accompanied by team IACA led the 300 ft Flag Walk marshaling a large group of representatives from diverse community organizations across Atlanta who were invited to join in carrying the Indian flag across the parking lot, resonating the pride and joy every Indian carries within, beyond borders.

“It is a matter of great pride to lead the IACA flag march. The flag was carried by more than 300 volunteers, including seniors and kids. The environment was full of energy, not only with drumbeats but also the patriotic feeling of people carrying the flag,” Sudhir Aggarwal, President APAC, who was among those who led the flag march noted.

“Yahan jis tarike se hum apne culture ko honor karte hain (The way we celebrate our culture here (at FOI, Atlanta USA), I genuinely felt that I was somewhere in India. It’s so great to travel across seven seas, to come to a place, to feel so humbled, so honored, and so patriotic. Thank you so much for doing that,” Dhupia said. Dhupia also engaged the audience in tête-à-tête with Amit Sabnis and Neelam Tripathi.

“One thing I love about Indians over here is that they have not lost their originality when they migrated over here. I see so much of traditional values, culture… festivals like these provide a platform for different cultures to be showcased, and I’m overwhelmed to see the various cultures represented here,” Rohit Verma said.

In his conversation with NRI Pulse, Verma described his collection as bold and unapologetic with no barriers when it comes to fashion. Draped in a sari featuring popular actresses of Bollywood such as Vaijaintimala, and Jayaprada, aptly hued in black and white, Verma said it was his representation of Bollywood. Verma walked the ramp with several local models and his Trunk Show at the event garnered plenty of interest. He thanked Paddy Sharma, BOD, IACA for inviting him to the festival.

Priyal Doshi Couture, organized by Rina Gupta, presented/choreographed/directed by Priyal Doshi with coordinated music and video for the background by Dr. Raktim Sen, showcased her collection, Threads of India. Women clad in myriad of designs including suits, bridal wear, and lehengas, highlighted India at its vibrant best.

Another piece highlighting women achievers of Indian origin in their fields, stole the heart of the crowd, garnering resounding applause.

The festivities commenced with the traditional Lighting of the lamp and renditions of Indian and American National anthems.

Activities kicked off early on with a Dance competition on site. Judges Chandrika Chandran, Neelima Gaddamanugu, and Siddarth Kelam picked Bharatha Darshana Performing Ensemble as the first-place winner and Abhinaya Dance Academy as the second place in the Classical category; Team Deewani as the first-place winner and Garima Dance Academy as the second-place winner in the Nonclassical category; and Honorable mention was awarded to Team Laasya.

The daylong event was anchored by Shaveta Jain, Nidhi Kharbanda, and Vidya Warrier.

“The cultural program featured over 50 performances from regional organizations, prominent dance academies, Atlanta Indian Idols, teenagers, seniors and even a dance presented by the Vietnamese Women of Georgia! It was an extravaganza of dance, music, skits, and fashion shows before a cheering audience. One could tell that every group, be it of four members or forty, were at their best! The cultural team spent days preparing for artistic and technical excellence and it paid off. Thanks to Jogy K. Jose of Divinity AV for the flawless execution of the 10-hour-long program! This was a very gratifying experience,” Dr. Raktim Sen, Cultural Director, FOI, said. Dr. Sen, Anamika Pol, and Jyothsna Hegde were recognized by Kaushal Tripathi, President, IACA for their continued contributions to IACA.

The Health Fair featuring physicians of several specialties drew close to 200 people that availed their services. “Absolutely tremendous turnout for blood tests, EKGs, screening tests, and doctors consultations with various specialists. Thanks to everyone for volunteering their precious time for this. A lot of people gave me very positive feedback. Very appreciative of all the volunteers besides our wonderful doctors. Thanks to IACA, GAPI. and special thanks to Chand Akkineni for coordinating everyone,” Dr. Inderpaul Singh, health fair organizer, noted. Organizations including Red Cross, GTA, TATA, GAPI, AKMG, and NKK extended their support to the fair.

Dr. Ashok Desai’s presented a detailed display of heart-related issues and healthy choices at the venue. A Yoga session was presented by Dr. Trushna Rao Nadig. The Blood Donation drive in collaboration with Red Cross was facilitated by Ranjithaveena Pol.

Dr. Paddy Sharma and Kris Gadde led the efforts to recognize 15 deserving students who were awarded IACA Merit and need-based Scholarships.

Prominent educators and counselors shed light on the evolving landscape of higher education and its impact on students’ future prospects. The panel discussion on entrepreneurship counseling highlighted the crucial role of mentorship and guidance in fostering a new generation of innovative entrepreneurs ready to navigate the complexities of the business world. Dr. Paddy Sharma, Synthia Padala, and Vaisheshi Jalajam coordinated the panel discussions.

A drawing competition hosted by Shashikala Foundation, Public Speaking by Toastmasters, Chess competition by Mahua Maity attracted kids and young adults alike, drawing large participants in each of the activities. The winners were awarded at the event.

The much-awaited winners of Tasveer, a photo contest organized by IACA in collaboration with Khabar Magazine were also announced at the event. Winners in 1st, 2nd, and third place included Abha Soni, Sooryakumar Thoppan, and Sanjay Ahuja.

The efforts to present a Souvenir to commemorate the event were led by Jyothsna Hegde, Chand Akkineni, and Dr. Uma Majmudar.

“The festival experienced an exciting response from different booth vendors spanning across all kinds of commerce. We had Rohit Verma’s famous costumes for sale, Chikankari merchandise from the famous Indira Bishen designer from Lucknow (U.P. India) and quality shoes from Naz fashions along with a multitude of dress and jewelry vendors from Atlanta and neighboring cities. The roaring success of the 27th FOI is a new shot in the arm for IACA executive and board, and we will be working even harder to make sure this festival remains an Atlanta icon,” Kaushal Tripathi, President IACA told NRI Pulse.

Sponsors included – Grand Presenter – 27th Cares, Platinum – Delta Airlines, Diamond – Subramonian Shankar, Annuity Client Solutions, ALTA, Silver – Suvidha, Rapid IT, Mrs. Madhu and Dr. Jag Sheth, Anu, Subra and Kiran Bhat Foundation, Drs. Lovelina and Pran Sood, Dr. Paddy and Chandler Sharma, Mrs. Sushma Mangeshikar and Vishwanath Ganti, Bronze – Insurancewala, RTL, IST, Georgia Clinic, Embassy Bank, Om Duggal, Sherwin Williams, Beads After Beads, Sant Nirankari Mission, Lata and Dr. Manjeet Singh Chinnan, Mrs. Sugar and CB Yadav, Mrs. Poonam Dutta, Drs. Asha and Naresh Parikh, Neelam and Kaushal Tripathi. Supporting Organizations – GAPI, MMA, NKK, Shashikala Foundation, Nadtal, UPNAA, TAMA, Media Partners – Desi Express, Khabar, NRI Pulse, Atlanta Dunia, TV Asia, TV 9, Mana TV, TV 5, Rashtra Darpan, S&S Digital Media, Shree TV, and Tech Partner- EvenTitans

Akkineni, who conceptualized the idea of FOI 27 years ago, noted, The Festival of India is not just an event; it is a celebration of spirit, happiness, and harmony. IACA takes this opportunity to build the community to help our youth succeed in their careers and life.”

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