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Bhangra comes to town at the 2015 Punjabi Mela in Virginia

An enthralling kaleidoscope of Punjabi culture.

By Avani Venkatesh

WASHINGTON, DC: The members of Gajjdi Jawani who came from Raleigh, North Carolina to compete, danced rhythmically on stage in their vibrant costumes to bhangra music fused with modern hip-hop songs, using bells and saaps, [the wooden instruments that are opened and closed to the beat of the music], to enhance their performance.

On Saturday March 28, people of all ages gathered to celebrate the culture of Punjab as one, at the annual Punjabi Mela hosted by the Sikh Association of Central Virginia. The festival had countless clothes stands, jewelry stands, food booths, vendors, performers, and much more.

The entire hall for the Cultural Center of India in Chesterfield, Virginia, was filled to the brim with people buzzing and excitedly reuniting with old friends and simply enjoying the event. Vibrant attire, heart thumping music and dances entranced the audience. In the food section, there were several booths replete with lassis, chats, makki di roti, sarsong ka saag and much more. Every seat was filled with people, their eyes glued to the energetic performances, all well-rehearsed and thoroughly planned, yet light-hearted and easy going.

Dancers in the bhangra competition walked around in their bright costumes, complete with the turban and saaps. There were 10 groups in total from all over the East Coast, representing Baltimore, North Carolina, and New York.  They came to compete against each other for the $1500 first place prize. Every team had enthusiastic and energetic performances with upbeat bhangra music that made everyone in the audience want to dance along.

The guest speaker of the night was the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam, also a pediatric neurologist. He highlighted the important contributions the Indian community makes to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

“It is amazing to see how the community comes together; it is great to see the gathering of all of these people singing and dancing so well,” he said.

Jasveen Jung, the publicity lead and a regular attendee of the Punjabi Mela spoke enthusiastically about the mela

“The first mela happened when I was 8 and now I’m 21 and it’s been so great to see all of the kids and all of my friends just have fun and flaunt their culture. I can really see them growing as people and performers,” she said.

Jung was also pleased that there were a wide range of groups to compete in the bhangra competition and how important the mela has become to the entire community. It is one of the only major events for the Punjabi community and it really brings everyone together and allows the celebration of Punjabi culture.

Going by the attendance, it was obvious that the festival was not only for those from Punjab. It was a huge attraction for people of all races and ages because of the experience the mela provided. It allowed for an insight into the vivid, boisterous culture of Punjab.

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