Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Punjab Day Mela at Forks soars with success

Annual celebration's public debut bodes well for future: organizers

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mike deal / winnipeg free press
The dance group Hollywood Bhangra performs Sunday on the Scotiabank Stage at The Forks during Punjab Day Mela.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

mike deal / winnipeg free press The dance group Hollywood Bhangra performs Sunday on the Scotiabank Stage at The Forks during Punjab Day Mela. Photo Store

A Punjabi celebration with performances from local and travelling troupes drew hundreds of Punjabi families in their traditional dress Sunday to The Forks.

The event, called the Punjab Day Mela, served as the first public debut for an annual celebration that previously was held in schools or community centres and catered mainly to South Asian immigrants and their families.

The event is separate from Folklorama, the city's summer festival for multiculturalism, partly because it's an annual celebration that is going mainstream and partly because it was easier for organizers to book the acts from out of town all at once.

Taking it mainstream is a major evolution for the event, organizers said.

By mid-afternoon, with crowds picnicking on the grass, food stands doing a roaring business and a sound system that would rival a rock concert, the event showed every sign of being an outstanding success.

"The main reason for it is to put a spotlight on our culture," said event organizer Ricky Brar. "Even the pizza has a kick to it," he laughed. "The main message is that it is a large community and we are all united and we're showing that by coming out today," Brar said.

Organizers said the Punjabi/Hindi community consists of about 40,000 people in Winnipeg.

The Mela will be an annual event at The Forks from now on, he said. "Every second Sunday in August," Brar said.

It took an army of volunteers seven months and a war chest of $100,000 in corporate donations and a city grant to mount the public celebration.

Pam Sidhu, who moved to Winnipeg as a girl of 18 some 30 years ago, wore a traditional Punjabi dress as she proudly escorted her relatives.

"I brought the family from Toronto," Sidhu said, gesturing to a group seated on the grass. "My niece is here and my aunties and uncle. And one auntie is from Australia," she said.

The public debut also gave Winnipeggers with no connection to the culture a chance to see it celebrated.

"We heard about it on the radio and we came down. I love the music. And look around," said Cathy Collins. "It's magical... It's a very friendly atmosphere. Definitely next year, I'm coming (back)," Collins said.

Brar said he was delighted to see entire families come out, dressed in their traditional clothes and settling in for a day of celebration with grandparents, mothers and children.

"'It's not just the men coming out... Nothing like this as ever happened in our community before," Brar said.

Brar, along with the drivers in his business, the Hollywood Limousine Service, spent months learning the complicated steps of a Bhangra dance under the supervision of a coach from Toronto.

Bhangra is a traditional set of folk dances that originated in the Indian subcontinent to celebrate the harvest.

Many other acts were performed by professional dance troupes who travel Canada's highways every summer to similar events.

Dozens of performances were showcased at the Scotia Main Stage at The Forks Sunday. The event started with traditional prayers at 10 a.m. and was due to wrap up after 8:30 p.m.

In addition to Punjabi/Hindi music, dances and songs, there were performances scheduled by Caribbean, First Nations and Filipino dance groups.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 11, 2014 B2

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