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Needhamites celebrate Indian culture with Diwali

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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter

Needham’s Indian community gathered at the local VFW on October 21 for an evening of friends, food, music, and dancing to celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights. The annual festival is celebrated with different traditions and festivities over five days. Last year, Needhamites celebrating Diwali decided it was finally time to unite the Indian community to celebrate the joyous festival.

“It started becoming obvious that there were a lot of Indian people in town celebrating Diwali, so one of the moms here made a group to try to organize something all together and it kind of took off from there,” said Seema Meloni, one of the event’s coordinators.

Mixing traditional and contemporary dancing, one group impresses the audience with a fusion dance to a remix of ‘Shape of You,’  Photos by Laura Drinan

Mixing traditional and contemporary dancing, one group impresses the audience with a fusion dance to a remix of ‘Shape of You,’ Photos by Laura Drinan

The event sold out over a month in advance and the VFW quickly filled up with families dressed in traditional Indian clothing and wishing one another “Happy Diwali.” As families found seats and enjoyed mango lassi, a traditional yogurt-based drink, a hot appetizer buffet was set up and children prepared for dance performances.

Roopal Patel, who moved to Needham from Wisconsin last year, welcomed the opportunity to celebrate Diwali with her new community. “It’s a great way to meet with friends and family,” she said. “It’s nice to be able to come here and really feel like you belong in the community.”

However, Roopal was not in attendance simply for the company. “Diwali is all about food, food, and food,” she said, sporting a wide grin as she hopped in line for the buffet.

From left to right: Sejal Chawda, Nidhi Kumar, Shalini Rao, Tejal Gandhi, Gauri Phatak, Seema Meloni, Smriti Rao, and Gaurie Pandey devoted time from their busy schedules to plan and organize a Diwali celebration for their community.  Photos by Laura Drinan

From left to right: Sejal Chawda, Nidhi Kumar, Shalini Rao, Tejal Gandhi, Gauri Phatak, Seema Meloni, Smriti Rao, and Gaurie Pandey devoted time from their busy schedules to plan and organize a Diwali celebration for their community. Photos by Laura Drinan

With a heaping plate of paneer tikka, idli and sambar, and coconut chutney, the Needhamites chowed down as the dances began. Children under five years old danced with electronic candles, following the moves of one of the choreographers with the six to eight-year-olds following.

Another group performed a fusion dance, which merged traditional Indian dances with contemporary dance, to a remix of “Shape of You.” To end the performances, a group of girls choreographed their own dance to a Bollywood song, wearing sparkling red tops.

Children under five-years-old join hands for a choreographed dance to start the evening’s Diwali festivities.  Photos by Laura Drinan

Children under five-years-old join hands for a choreographed dance to start the evening’s Diwali festivities. Photos by Laura Drinan

With dinner and dessert on its way to the tables, the attendees reconnected with friends and family as children ran around the hall, playing and dancing to the music.

“I think people like it because it’s small and manageable,” said Gauri Phatak, who helped organize the event. “This is only the second year, so we’re still getting our feet wet and figuring it out.

“But it’s just important to expose Needham to the Indian community and culture.”

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