Emerging from one of the oldest civilizations in the world, India is a country that incites curiosity and elicits images of bustling bazaars, lush jungles and majestic palaces.
And although a roundtrip flight to New Delhi will set you back more than $1,000, you can sample Indian culture here in New Orleans. This Sunday, the New Orleans Museum of Art will become the setting of India Fest, presented by The Indian Arts Circle of New Orleans.
“People will see a side of India that’s very fascinating and entertaining,” said Urmila Kamath, the co-chairwoman of India Fest, who was born in Chennai, India.
The event will showcase several aspects of Indian culture, from art and fashion, to music and dance. And, of course, there will be an abundance of authentic Indian cuisine. Since India is the second most populous country in the world, with nearly twenty official languages, the culture varies from region to region. Illustrating the many facets of the culture during a single afternoon event is no easy feat.
“There’s only so much that we can do in one day,” said Kamath. She hopes that the festival’s offerings will educate people on Indian culture, and on the country itself.
India Fest begins with a traditional lamp-lighting ceremony on the front steps of the museum. Afterward, guests will be welcomed into the museum for additional performances and activities.
Throughout the Great Hall and in the auditorium, a variety of stirring Indian dance performances, including choreographed Bollywood routines, will take place. Musicians will compose traditional classical and folk songs, which Kamath described as “upbeat.” She noted that music represents various regions of India. The Great Hall is also where the Indian art collection tour commences.
Throughout intervals of the day, the third floor of the museum will host yoga and meditation sessions, along with a demonstration on how to wear a sari. A sari is a colorful swath of fabric, often embellished with exquisite designs and metallic threads, worn by women in India. The garment, which may reach up to 10 feet, is wrapped around the waist and draped over one shoulder. Assembling a sari requires skill and practice, but the end result is striking.
Ladies looking to accessorize their ensemble can stop by the bazaar, housed in the Besthoff Sculpture Garden, for bangles and other types of ornate Indian jewelry. Luxurious Indian shawls and purses will be available, along with sienna-hued henna tattoos, known as mehndi.
The Sculpture Garden is also the site for satisfying — and often spicy — Indian food, provided by Taj Mahal Indian Cuisine, Saffron NOLA and Silk Road. The overarching menu features saag paneer and basmati rice, spinach and potato masala, curried lentils and rice, southern chicken curry with vegetables and aloo tikkie (potato cakes) with mint and tamarind chutney. As for beverages, gudamba (a roasted mango drink) will be on hand.
The family-friendly event offers numerous activities for children, such as storytelling. And young artists can design bookmarks embellished with their name, written in an Indian language, or create a tori, a decoration placed on the front door of Indian homes. The sprawling greenspace outside of the museum will be reserved for kite-flying.
The first India Fest took place at the New Orleans Museum of Art in 2013 and attracted nearly 2,500 people. The event was organized by the Indian Arts Circle of New Orleans, a small organization that aims to increase awareness of Indian culture, especially Indian classical music.
“All of us are volunteers. We started really small, about 20 years ago,” said Kamath. “Now, I think we’ve gained some footage in the town. I’m really proud to say that.”