Dusserah Mela Celebrated with Devotion, Pomp, Parade and Patake!!

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By Jawahar Malhotra

SUGAR LAND: The bright rays of the Sun were still grazing over the western rim of the Skeeters Stadium when tiny tots and other children of all ages lined up besides the stage, waiting for their names to be called to get in front of the crowd. They were dressed in their costumes, so carefully pieced together by their adoring parents, depicting some character from the Rama Leela, and escorted on stage by their moms, as the emcee, Sangeeta Dua, called them out.

“Who are you supposed to be?’ prompted Dua, “Can you give me a clue?’ And a few muttered their names or made a growl, roar or other sound to signify their character; some even sang or pantomimed. Numbers taped to their chests, they stood on stage, then paraded before the judges – Rahul Aggarwal, 14; well-known recipe writer Shakuntla Malhotra, 87 and Dr. Virendra K. Mathur, noted cardiologist – who graded the creativity of their costume and presentation. When it was done, three stood out of the field of 20 getting the first, second and third prizes. “But It was very hard to decide,” the judges said, declaring that all of them were winners and giving consolation prizes to all the rest.

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As the Sun glided down even with the stadium rim last Saturday, October 17, the crowds started swelling up and became engrossed in the bazaar like ambiance created by the stalls that lined the concourse on either side of the main entrance, which was anchored, as it was last year, by a huge idol of Ganesha, behind a beautiful colored rice rangoli of Shiva and Parvati, courtesy of Shiva Shakti Mandir. The outside of the Stadium was festooned with yellow and red flurrying drapes, the  façade lit in brilliant LED lights and the music and commentary from the inside activities piped to speakers for the incoming crowd to hear.

It was clear that the crowds were eager to sample of the first large scale, family-oriented mela (or fair) of the Fall season, but especially so as it coincided with the days of navrattri, Durga puja and Dusserah, the victory of good over evil, which this event was commemorating and falls on October 22. By the time night had fallen and the main events were played out on stage, there was a capacity crowd of over 8,000, just as last year, seating in the bleachers watching the show.

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The organizers, Shri Sita Ram Foundation, had promised that the 7-hour long event would offer something for the entire family and held true to their word. Booths lined either side of the aisle, festooned with their business names and draped with LED lights; in the clearings at the end, food booths offered a wide variety of hot snacks and quick meals and down the ramps around the back rides and slides kept the really young and their parents busy.

But the spectacle was all in center field where 30-foot tall effigies of the demons Meghanath, Kumbhakaran and Ravana were set out on one side of the stage, just behind an even taller, inflatable effigy of Hanuman that lorded over them. To the other far side, smaller 17-foot effigies of the demons stood ready to be burned to commemorate the final victory of Rama, Sita and Lakshman and their final return to their ancestral home Ayodhya on Diwali.

It was a packed show on stage, led by a team of emcees: Sangeeta Dua, the perennial Nik Nikam, and first-timers Shweta Arora, Lalita Srivastava, dance director Kiron Kumar and radio host Shoba Joshi. The show began with a bjhajan and kirtan, followed by the costume contest, folk dances, a scene from the Rama Leela which will be enacted this coming Sunday, October 25 at the Stafford Civic Center on Cash Road (another Shri Sita Ram Foundation event) and a puja held offstage by the priests of several participating area temples.

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The culmination of the event was the eagerly anticipated parade around the inside perimeter of the field, like last year, but only bigger, with more than 40 floats depicting scenes and Gods and Goddesses that are central to the Ramanaya. Interspersed with them were marching bands from the Ismaili Girl and Boy Scouts, the Ismaili Bagpipers, a high school band and cheerleaders, Miss Bollywood USA winners, Bollywood Shake dancers, temple drumming bands, the University of Houston and endin with the iconic Wells Fargo (a major sponsor) Stagecoach. Heading it all as the Parade Marshall were the Indian Consul General Parvathaneni Harish and his wife Nandita and an enthusiastic Arun Verma, overjoyed by the turnout.

And of course, the moment that all had been waiting for came at 10pm, when the main organizer and visionary of the event, Dr. Arun Verma, himself announced that “the field should be cleared immediately per the Fire Marshall’s directions” to start the fireworks. With three loud pops, the stuffed effigies burst into flames and then from behind them and to the left, bands of fireworks lit up the air in a crescendo to celebrate the victory of Good over Evil. It was even more spectacular than the Fourth of July!