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Diwali Mela Lights up the Community and The Woodlands Skies

Photos: Sachin Chitlangia

Photos: Sachin Chitlangia

By Priya Subramaniam 

THE WOODLANDS: The spirit of volunteerism shone brightly as the Hindu Temple of The Woodlands celebrated its annual Diwali Mela this past weekend. About 3,500 visitors were treated to a delightful day filled with shopping, food and entertainment, entirely planned and executed by the Indian community in The Woodlands.

The Diwali Mela at the HTW has been growing in popularity every year since the temple’s inception in 2011. Held as usual at the temple’s beautiful premises at the corner of South Forest Gate and Woodlands Parkway on Saturday, October 22, this year the organizers planned the mela as an all-day event from 11am to 10pm, unlike previous years when the event ended at 6 pm. New and special attractions this year included fireworks for children at dusk, all-day offering of cuisines from different parts of India (prepared entirely by volunteers at the temple kitchen), and live Bollywood music in the evening.

Groundwork for this massive undertaking started over two months ago with volunteers forming food, logistics, parking, decorations, vendor coordination and cultural planning teams. Meetings every weekend during this time as well as a burst of feverish activity in the last one week leading up to the event, resulted in an almost flawless execution of the carnival.

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The mela brought together 50 local vendors, selling Indian clothing, jewelry and artefacts as well as several clubs of the HTW such as language classes, youth services, yoga classes and senior’s which had booths exhibiting their services. The Senior’s Forum, one of the most active at the HTW, had thoughtfully collected unused artefacts, jewelry and clothing from within the community, and sold them at nominal prices. They collected $1,100 which they will donate towards Montgomery County residents who are food insecure, as well as to the temple where they hold their weekly meetings.

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The food stalls, with their assortment of offerings and cheerful volunteers cooking and serving food on site, were the most appealing feature of the mela. Dosas, channa batura, pav bhaji, vada pav, thalis (both north and south Indian), varieties of chaat, desserts, specialty coffee, masala tea, lassi and kulfi stalls, had attendees clamoring for more and lining up repeatedly throughout the day. Culinary work began earlier in the week with dedicated volunteers taking time off, to buy, cut and prep up provisions. The scene at the temple was akin to a huge family wedding, with children and extended family of the volunteers, toiling for hours on end. Many a visitor at the mela was impressed with the quality and quantities of food being churned out by this team.

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The cultural team had a packed day of 31 programs as well, having invited music and dance schools from all over Houston as well as from College Station to showcase their talents. Children and adults participated with great zeal and their performances were well received by the audience. Leena Shah and her team of Radio Dabang Houston with their enthusiastic emcees, and Houston’s leading Bollywood singer Raj Vishwakarma, who sang duets with local Woodlands talents, had the audience amply entertained during the evening hours.

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The HTW, along with the Woodlands India Association (WIA) the exclusive sponsor of fireworks brought a beautiful fireworks show for children at dusk. Scores of families, not just from The Woodlands, but the entire Greater Houston area, were regaled by sparklers and small fireworks.

The smooth functioning of the mela would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of the HTW logistics team that had carefully planned a safe entry and exit for all guests, as also stall fixings and banners. Ample parking had been arranged at a nearby medical center from where volunteers ran shuttles to transport guests to and from the venue.

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The total atmosphere was reminiscent of a typical carnival in India. With lights and decorations glistening in the evening, old Bollywood numbers in the background, fireworks, aromas from the food stalls and festive attires of visitors and volunteers, HTW’s Diwali Mela 2016 had something in it for everyone. The culmination of the energies of over 250 volunteers, the locally-organized mela highlighted the warmth of the community and the value of individual and group effort, resulting in a successful event, and the best way yet, to celebrate the festival of lights.

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