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On the scene: Indian Heritage Festival in Valhalla
On Sunday afternoon, the sights and sounds of India were on display at the Indian Heritage Festival in Valhalla, the penultimate summer cultural event at Kensico Dam Plaza designed to highlight Westchester’s rich diversity.
The festival began thirteen years ago, under Sangita Shah, the former president of the Indian-American Cultural Association of Westchester (IACAW). “I wanted to give something back to the community,” she said. “We were the only ethnic group whose presence was not as mainstream.” The first year boasted a 10,000 person turnout, and the festival has become a tradition ever since.
Himanshu Pandya, executive committee member of IACAW, said in an interview earlier this week, “If you can’t come to India, come to Kensico Dam Plaza because we brought India to you.” Alongside traditional Indian cuisine, the festival offered cultural dance performances and a bazaar where attendees could purchase saris, jewelry and more.
American vendors also set up shop on the festival grounds, because the purpose of the event was not only to celebrate traditional Indian culture, but also to honor their Indian-Americans’ connection to their adopted home.
“We really want to emphasize that we are Indians, but first we are Americans,” said Pandya. “When we say ‘Jai Hind’ (roughly translated to ‘Long Live India’), we also say ‘God Bless America.’”
The cultural program was a major draw of the event. Performers of all ages took the stage in traditional dress, dancing in classic, folkloric and modern styles.
“I am so impressed that we have so many classic Indian dance teachers in the area that devote their time to preserve our heritage and teach our youth,” said Pandya.
At the festival, children’s tents offered a place for kids to color and get henna tattoos, while nearby vendors set up shop a variety of items ranging from bottled hot sauce to home décor. The aroma of Indian spices permeated the air near the picnic area, as visitors sampled dishes such as chicken tikka masala and samosas.
“Our main focus is to really share the richness and values of Indian culture,” said Pandya.