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October 12, 1999


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Dancing the Dandia Nights Away

Shubada Deshpande

Dandia Night It's time to have your forty winks in advance, squeeze into your most vibrant Indian outfit, put on your dancing shoes and head for the most happening desi scenes in town. Because, with the arrival of Navratri, the flavor of the season is dandia. Despite being thousands of miles away from the home country, overseas Indians try to recreate the festive atmosphere whether it is in New Jersey in the United States or the festivities in Sharjah organized by Shri Samast Soni Samaj.

Like in India, it's the most looked forward to event for the young as they can dance all night long and show off their Indian outfits and accessories.

The tenth annual Navratri festival kicked off in Edison, New Jersey on Saturday, October 9, at the Raritan Center. Organized by the Indo-American Cultural Society, the event drew over 15,000 on the opening night. The show will continue for three weekends and end on the 31st morning with a puja.

"We have erected a 100,000 square foot heated tent to accommodate the crowds," said Peter (Pradip) Kothari, IACS president and chief organizer of the event. "We have invited three bands and 45 artists from India.''

Converting Raritan Center into Edison's own Ghatkopar Gujarati Samaj, the bastion of dandia culture in Mumbai, has been no mean task, said Kothari.

"We have filed law suits against the establishment for all kinds of rights. For parking, right of walking you name it," Kothari said.

"We have fought against groups who have assaulted our people. In fact, it's an ongoing thing because whatever you do, prejudice prevails. Whenever members of the Indian community have complained, we have fought for their rights, but to get them to complain is a big task. Our people depend on in god and have a passive attitude.''

The cultural society in the past years clashed with area residents and the municipal government over the celebration. Following numerous complaints by residents of the Clara Barton and Bonhampton townships over the noisy celebration and litter problems at the venue, the authorities tried to force the festival to end by midnight.

According to the Home News Tribune, in June 1998, the IACS won the lawsuit and Edison agreed to pay the society $ 95,000 and drop its attempt to close the event at midnight. In return the society dropped a federal lawsuit against the township filed in 1995 that claimed constitutional violations, an argument upheld by US District Judge John Lifland.

The past two years have seen a reduction in complaints over noise. This has been due to the society using a more sound-resistant tent and noise-monitoring equipment.

This year the society has hired the services of 80 to 100 Edison police officers who will ensure discipline. Metal detectors have been installed to screen guests and no alcoholic beverages will be allowed inside the venue. Over 40 booths will sell soda and snacks.

The film stars who have confirmed their attendance are Ayesha Jhulka (Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar) and Gulshan Grover, one of the popular villains of Bollywood.

"We got Mamta Kulkarni last year,'' Kothari said. " We invite only those we can afford. Some stars agree to come for free but getting some others could mean an expense of up to $ 150,000. A couple of years ago we got Amitabh Bachchan to attend the occasion for free.''

To get the feet dancing till the wee hours are bands like Beaters, Lalit Sodha and Party and Preeti and Pinky. According to Kothari, the bands charge an average of $ 15,000 a show.

The Beaters is one of the hottest dandia bands in India. The band was formed 17 years ago and is led by top-of-the-league vocalist, Manisha Savla (of the Don't touch my chunaria fame), Napolian and Bipin Chunawalla while Ashish Ajmera is the drummer. Expect them to play from their latest, Piya Piya Bole Payalia and Manisha's Don't cheat your heart.

The first two weekends are featuring the band Lalit Sodha and party, Preeti and Pinky will play on the third weekend and Beaters will perform on the last weekend.

The entrance fees for each day is $ 8, (there is no season pass) and the program hours are from 8 pm to 4 am each weekend.

In South Brunswick in New Jersey dandia revelers combined fun with charity. The Dandiya Dhamaka at the Durga Mandir here was organized by the volunteers of Child Relief and You, an organization devoted to serving deprived children in India.

"The idea to have a dandia to raise funds came about in July when we had organized a cricket match," said chief organizer Arjit Bhattacharya. "We had asked people to fill out a questionnaire asking them what event they would like to attend. Dandia was the favorite response.''

The event, on October 9, featured local band Mahesh Bhavras and Party, which had the crowds dancing till the wee hours. While the money from tickets and individual donations went towards charity, snacks and beverages were served free.

"It's a temple and we didn't want to charge people for food. We had not set any dress code but the crowds turned up in their brightest traditional wear," said Bhattacharya.

Other places combining festivity with a cause are the India Cultural Association of New Jersey, which will host the dandia festival on October 16, 22 and 23 at the Old Bridge High School campus. Along with the usual samosas and soft drink stalls, there will be a Red Cross Society booth. The Red Cross is organising a Bone Marrow Blood Drive on October 16 at the venue from 8 pm to midnight.

"We ought to contribute something to the community where we live also," Renu Agarwal, a volunteer for the Red Cross booth, said. "The Red Cross has no boundaries it serves all over the world so there is no reason why we cannot appeal to our fellow Indians to donate blood.''

Other dandia events slated for October 16 are at the Union High School, Edison, New Jersey. The event will feature the band from Bombay, Kusumbi Rang, which will play from 8 pm until 1 am, with garba, bhangra and Disco dandia, according to organizers Manikant Patel and Mahendra Trivedi of the M&M Theatre group.

The entrance fee is $ 5 and, like last year, a crowd of at least 4,000 is expected.

Other venues:

  • Meadowland Exposition Center, 355, Plaza Drive, Secaucus. The dandia here on October 16 night has been organized by Yogi Enterprises, (201)656-6541; web site:

  • Bloomfield, New Jersey Dandia on October 16. The address is Bloomfield Middle High School, 60 Huck Road, Bloomfield NJ 07003.

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