Crowds Pack in Colorful Dussehra Diwali Celebration at Skeeter’s Stadium

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The giant effigies of Kumbakaran, Ravan, and Meghnath stood to one side while smaller replicas were burnt just before the fireworks.
Photo: Vanshika Vipin

Click here for photo collage


SUGAR LAND: The forecast for Saturday was for bright and sunny skies, as if Lord Ram himself wished his glory to be sung , demonstrated and displayed  by all his devotees in the Houston area.  The main team of organizers received good omens once again when the huge 10 foot large statue of Lord Ganpati from the Shiv Shakti temple was the first deity they saw the first dwhen they entered Skeeter’s Stadium 5 minutes. All day long, the crowds that streamed in walked by Lord Ganesh, stopped in awe and posed for a picture.

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The stadium was abuzz two days prior to 4 October to celebrate the largest Dusserah and Diwali event ever in the Metroplex.  Various crews for stage construction,  light and sound started the work on the 2 October and worked feverously for the next two days to build one of the largest three tiered stages (60 ft x 40 ft) at Skeeters  to get the preparations right.  On Saturday morning at 6 am, the work crew was up and working again to complete everything by 2 pm.

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The center stage in the middle of the ball field had professional lighting rigging and layout. Photos: Jawahar Malhotra

Actually, preparations for this third Dusserah/Diwali event in the past three years at the stadium had been going on at the main offices of Shri Sita Ram Foundation for many months. Volunteers had been busy constructing floats and religious icons and symbols to be displayed on behalf of the Foundation, under the direction of a community religious activist and Mata Bhakt, Ravi Puri. Many area organizations and temples participated in the Dusserah parade and other activities.


A gigantic statue of Ganesh met the people entering the stadium

The Foundation’s teams of volunteers and staff began their work at the stadium the day before, setting up the multicolored booths, draped with red and white satin, lots of cheerful Diwali lights and professionally printed signs, and draping even the columns in the stadium. The entire stadium fluttered with streamers and numerous blazing Sun flags (Surya Patakas) of Lord Ram. The Concourse was adorned with banners of Lord Hanuman and the rafters with hangings brought especially from the Indian state of Orrisa. Prasad especially brought in from Ayodhya was distributed along with sweets ordered from ISKCON temple.

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The crowd in the concourse was thick as it made its way past the vendor booths

Two Ram Temples were set up at the stadium; one in the breezeway of the Stadium where the deities from Sri Rama Jaya Niketan temple of Katy  were brought attended to by Hanuman Swami. The other temple was erected in the field with huge pictures of Shri Ram, decorated by Lalita Srivastava and Beena Vempati. These two temples inside the stadium as well as the main entrance were decorated by Mandap Creations which also decorated the main stage.
Outside the stadium marquee lights proclaimed the Dussehra & Diwali Festival event and the major sponsors and the entire side of the stadium facing Highway 6 was illuminated with multicolored lights to add a festive atmosphere.
Special attention was given to keep the hundreds of children of all ages engaged by providing a petting zoo, bringing a Sugar Land fire engine, face painting, balloons, a moonwalk, merry-go-round in a play zone, all free of charge while they soaked up the rich and ancient cultural experience. A free Health Clinic organized by Dr. Jignesh Shah, offered checkups of vital signs.
The traditional pre-event recitation of Sunder Kaand from Ram Charit Manas recited by Ishvar Bhai and his group of devotees began the program, followed by an opening Aarti of Lord Ram and Hanuman.
The Stadium gates opened at 4 pm and allowed entrance till about 8 pm, when the Fire Marshall determined that the stadium capacity had been exceeded substantially and ordered the entrances shut. As in last year, several hundred disappointed people arriving late were turned back.

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One of the more than 60 floats and performers in the parade that went by the crowd

The concourse was a scene which brought memories of the hustle and bustle of Chandni Chowk with people jostling for position and bargaining to buy the special items for Dussehra and Diwali over 40 booths. Nine food booths (ISKCON, Udipi Cafe, Madras Pavilion, Bawarchi, Rani’s  World Food, Vishala, Maharaja Bhog, Tasty Bites and Mirch Masala) had long lines all evening.
The stage event was started by Kalasudha of ISKCON, who was one of the emcees, promptly at 4:30 pm with a Kirtan by the Iskcon Youth Group and a bhajan by Surender Talwar. The entire stage and other events were projected on the stadium’s Jumbotron screen with fixed and two roving cameras. The other emcee was Dr. Nik Nikam, who came in his customary red sherwani and pearl-stringed turban.
This was followed by lovely dances by the following four dance schools: the Abhinaya School of Performing Arts of Indrani Parthasarathy; Sreepadam School of Arts of Divya Unni; Sunanda’s School of Performers and Lakshmi Dance Academy of Lakshmi Peter. A children’s costume contest came next, organized by Kiran Verma, for children from ages 3 to 12 dressed up as various characters from Ramayan.
Several politicians sent their representatives who presented greetings on stage: Robert Quarles for Congressman Pete Olson, Sam Merchant for Congressman Al Green and Councilman Harish Jajoo for Sugar Land Mayor Thompson. The sponsors of the event, area priests and all the 400 volunteers were appreciated for their unwavering support and untiring work.
Sri and Geetha Ravuala of Ashirwad A Blessing temple from Katy, presented a Ramayan Live multi-media competition with prizes distributed to the winners. Abha Dwivedi the third emcee introduced the Ram Leela stage play (Yuddha Kaand), directed by Dr. Rathna Kumar and assisted by Kiron Kumar. She gave a brief narration describing the story of Ramayan for those not familiar  with it. The first scene started with Angad (Bali’s son) landing in Ravan’s court and depicted by the cast Venu Joysula (Ram), Divansh (Lachsmann), Madhukar (Ravan), Dr. Dipesh Batra (Hanuman), Dr. K.B. Singh (Meghnath), Dushyant Baweja (Sushen Vaidy), Prem Baweja (Sugreev), Ashok Baweja (Kumbhkaran), Shiv Kumar (demon king), Rajeshwar (demon king), Puneet Gupta (demon king), Ajay Gupta (Angad), Bhushan Vaidya (Vibhishan), Vinay (demon king), Sanjay Aggrawal (Vanar),   Smiriti Ramchandran (Sita) and Tanish (Vanar).
As soon as Ravan was killed on stage a huge cheer went up from the audience and the other highlight of the event started: the multi float parade to with floats made by many organizations and temples. This hour long parade was led by a Color Guard, marching with fluttering flags and drawn naked swords ahead of a horse drawn buggy of Lord Ram and his entourage. There were several marching groups, three marching bands with cheerleaders,  Lord Jagannath’s majestic Rath, with an Ismaili bagpipe band bringing up the rear.
This was followed by Chanting of Vedic Mantras (Mantra Pushpam) by priests of the Meenakshi Temple in mid field temple. The Maha Aarti was a sight to see with several thousand people rising to their feet in the stand, singing Om Jai Jagdish Hare, waving tiny LED lamps..
Loud cheers of delight and resounding shouts of Jai Shri Ram went up as the effigies of Ravan, Kumbhkaran and Meghnath were lit in a bonfire and a long, spectacular fireworks display that culminated the with huge concluding burst before 10pm.
This culminated the most colorful and spectacular event of 2014. It was a family affair with young couples and children in tow along with grandparents comparing notes of the Dussehra Diwali festivals  in India with what they saw that night at Skeeters and saying this one was better.
The Foundation’s next event is the Ram Leela 2014, its 5 year anniversary, which will be a world class play at the Cullen Performance Hall at University of Houston from 3 to 6 pm on Sunday, 12 October, free to the public by registering at Tickets will be available on-site on a first come first served basis.