By Daniel Winner | Contributor For AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY — On Aug. 23, the India Day “Mela” and Parade put on by the South Jersey Indian Association (SJIA) filled Brighton Park with the sights and sounds of a traditional and contemporary cultural blend.
Indian dhol drums beat to the rhythmic folk dance of India, accompanied by modern pop songs. Parade floats were led by colorful dancers and volunteers who showered onlookers with bead necklaces and tote bags emblazoned with the national flag of India along Atlantic City’s famed Boardwalk.
The SJIA hosted India Day in commemoration of the 77th anniversary of the country’s independence. It was the 14th consecutive India Day to be celebrated in Atlantic City by the association.
The parade began at Showboat Atlantic City Boardwalk and made its way south to Brighton Park next to The Claridge Hotel. Present were vendors who sold South Asian jewelry such as earrings, bracelets and bangles, in many shades of gold and silver.
Others provided attendees with the opportunity to taste various traditional Indian foods such as samosa, kachori, bhelpuri, khichu and jalebi.
“Me, as an Indian American, who came from far away, we still have that love for the country and want to display the culture and the unity that we’ve carried here to this country,” said Syed Abbas, the executive committee president of SJIA. “This is how we let people know. This is our 14th year doing this. You must have seen the floats that captured our culture. We will have young people performing native cultural dances.”
Photos by Meredith Winner, Mer-Made Photography
Independence Day of India is observed annually on the 15th of August and is a national holiday celebrating independence from the British Empire in 1947.
Indian National Congress finally attained independence through nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience under the leadership of lawyer and civil rights activist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, popularly known as Mahatma Gandhi.
“This event is very valuable because we want to show our kids where we came from and what we do,” Sumon Majumder, a member of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) stated. “We have our own national anthem, just like America has a national anthem. We have our own traditions. “We also pray and wear different clothes, so we want to continue this for our next generation. It’s very important that we get together once a year just to bring the culture and diversity together so they can learn more than one culture in life.”
“This event is so special for me because we get to celebrate the children,” said board member Sabbas Pandya. “They will have special performances and it also helps them out. It also brings the community closer together with these special activities. I’ve been involved with this for 10 years and as an Indian American we feel proud of our community.”
In what seemed to be a twist of fate, the same day saw another momentous occasion in Indian and world history. The spacecraft Chandrayaan-3, the third Indian lunar exploration mission under the Indian Space Research Organization landed on the Moon, making India the fourth country to make a successful Moon landing and the first country to land near the lunar south pole.
“It’s a double celebration today with India landing on the moon, being the first country to land on the south side. Other countries have tried, and Russia crashed, but we succeeded,” Abbas said. “It just so happened today and it allows us to celebrate that as well.”
SJIA Board of Trustees Vice President Romesh Ruthnaswamy added, “This is a very auspicious day!” The south pole is of interest to the scientific community due to the presence of ice, which may be used as a source of water for future missions.
“I am very proud, very proud!” Dipali Patel cheered. “India is the first Moon landing on the south pole, so we are very proud of our India. It’s just the beginning, and I would say that India is going to go very high.”
The South Jersey Indian Association’s mission is “to enable the cross-pollination of cultures in our society and participation to create a fertile environment for a better tomorrow.” True to its mission statement, the India Day Mela and Parade was free to the public and welcomed attendees of all cultural backgrounds to partake in the festivities.
“I’m from the Bangladeshi community,” said Majumder. “I come from Bangladesh, but India is our neighboring country and I have grown up with friends and family who are mostly from India. I also belong to the Asian American Society of Atlantic City. They support us and we support them. We are celebrating Independence Day and the mela festival together.”
India Day is of utmost importance to the Indian-American community throughout Atlantic County. Patel spoke about the Indian population of Atlantic County.
“In Atlantic City it’s very big right now, but I don’t know the exact number,” Patel said. “I’m assuming there are at least five hundred families around the area, not just in Atlantic City, but also in the suburbs like Absecon, Egg Harbor and Galloway.”
Indian Americans make up about 4.11% of the total population of Atlantic City with nearby Pomona being 14.20% Asian Indian.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Daniel Winner has a double major in Religious Studies and Japanese from Penn State University and has traveled internationally to the Far East on several occasions. His insights on Buddhism and Asian culture give a unique view of historical and modern trends. He will be serving as a contributor for Front Runner New Jersey.
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