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08-12-2023  Gday India

The most significant Diwali of the Southern Hemisphere by Celebrate India honors Diwali at Federation Square in its eighteenth year.

Gone are the days when Diwali was introduced to Australia as the Festival of Lights; now, with the growth of the Indian community, the true essence of Diwali is in full swing – culturally, spiritually, and religiously.

Who knows better than Celebrates India's chairman Arun Sharma, along with his wife Jaya Sharma, to bring the city of Melbourne to a standstill!

The novelty stays strong each year. This year, Celebrates India's festivities have new themes and programming. 

This year, it was again held at the iconic Federation Square on the 4th of November with the theme Blue Diwali, raising money for Beyond Blue and tribute to Bappi Lahiri. This year, the illumination of iconic buildings like Fed Square, the Indian Consulate, the Old Treasury Building and the Museum made Diwali even more special.

So, we at G'day India couldn't keep our calm since their program launch at the committee room, MCG; we sat down with chairperson Arun Sharma to understand what motivates him to make every year bigger and better.                                                                                                            

How has the journey been so far?  

There are two ways to look at it: one is for the organization of the community; secondly, I will go by the community.    The journey has been very long, but it's been pleasant because what started in 2005 -2006, when only very few were aware of this festival and the culture. So, at that time, it wasn’t that we weren't celebrating festivals but within our community, which was very small, and now today everyone wants to be a part of it. Almost 80% of the broader population knows and is aware of Diwali, and it's not the festival of lights anymore. Visitors expect to see the vibrant colours of our Indian culture there every year. It's the most considerable success of the journey which we had, and I feel very proud of seeing the young ones involved.   

What was so special about the Celebrate India event this year?  

It's literally like asking a parent, What's so special about your children? This year, one thing that stood out was the number of artists we had this year; well over four to four hundred and fifty artists performed this year. The second thing is that the enthusiasm and passion to perform here of these artists has stayed the same over the years, then joined by some new groups as well, plus the so many of these    artists who've been with us for more than ten years. Interestingly, we give them a challenge as a theme each year, and they put a lot of effort into it; for months to practice, trying to master the skills and ensure to deliver it in the best way.   

Every year, it's getting bigger and better. So, what was the crowd this year, and what is the secret behind pulling this together?  

Well, the crowd has been fantastic this year because we had over 45,000 people just on the one day alone. Those were just incredible numbers just for the day. It was very satisfying. Apart from the big numbers it was delightful to see a more comprehensive community presence there at Fed Square.   

The secret behind it is the expectation that they have of this festival     We have built relationships with the broader community who are wanting excitement, newness, and variety. The secret of this success is the sincerity of the hard-working Diwali team; they deliver their best round the clock for months in advance. I mean 100%. We all ensure that we have new ideas, smart and professional presentations, every year. That brings the crowd together- the novelty, the newness of it. Various local artists from so many new groups, even with non-Indian backgrounds are introduced everywhere to lift the festivities.  

How much preparation is required to pull this colossal event?  

So, planning starts literally from the time it finishes. I just met with our focus group to bring in new ideas for next year, and then the whole group gets involved roughly four months before the festival each year. The dance groups get notified of the theme for the year, three months before giving them enough time to prepare their item, new costumes etc. The theme this year was music from every region of India; you could see Rajasthan, Punjab, Channie, Haryana, Bengal, and music in so many Indian languages. We brought together close to 400 to 450 local artists for this festival.   

Had a Comedy play at Doncaster Secondary College; tickets were sold to raise money for Beyond Blue. It was a pretty packed house, and it was a new idea as we had never tried before. Launch was a fantastic event organised for the first time at the iconic MCG. We try to work with different Australian organizations with our mission where they also get exposed to the Indian culture, build mutual respect, and feel equal partners. That is truly satisfying.  

Suppose you want to do something different for the event. What would have been?  

No, nothing. We have good wheel in motion and an excellent team, and all we need is new ideas. That's the only thing we look for each year and try to deliver it nicely. Regarding changes, if we don't have to spend time raising funds, then we will be way happier, would wish for fixed funds given to us every year so that we could focus more time to work on some fantastic cultural items, but different.

What keeps you going?  

It's just this: the passion to see our culture shine. We have come a long way from calling Diwali a ‘festival of lights’ to just Diwali. It's a big deal. You don't need to explain today, what it is.   

Most importantly, it is our family of Celebrate India which is very focused, has amazing passion, dedication and super hard-working group who motivates me to advance ahead. My wife Jaya is the enormous support; equally dedicated, if not more. If I ever get tired or frustrated, even for a while, she brings me back in focus, reminding me with that one sentence - it is Thakur ji’s task so let's do it properly. That is fantastic support I get from her and, of course, the team, which has kept me going.  

By Noni Chakraborty





08-12-2023  Gday India