For those of us who live in communities large enough to host such things, a great supplement to the formal curriculum is ethnic festivals or celebrations that are open to the public. In many cases, being in a large gathering and celebration of different subpopulations of people unlike our own is the next best thing to foreign travel.
We took advantage of such a learning experience this weekend when we went to the Cary Diwali Festival. Diwali, the festival of lights in Hinduism, is probably the largest religious celebration in India. For many years now, the Town of Cary and an Indian civic organization, Hum Sub, have organized a free public festival around the time of Diwali, the exact dates of which change from year to year (it is based on a lunar calendar), but always takes place in the fall. The Research Triangle area has a large population of people whose ancestry came from India, and this festival has grown to be the largest gathering of Indians in the Southeast (or, at least, that's what the announcer on stage said).
It takes place in the Koka Booth Amphitheater (the same site as our summer Symphony trips, which I have discussed before). The outskirts of the Amphitheater are lined with booths, some offering generic services such as health care, banking, or cell phone service, but others offering tempting morsels of food or gorgeous displays of colorful saris and other Indian clothing and their highly bling-y gold jewelry. There are also some educational booths, and some raising money for Indian-based charities, many based around improving schools in poor areas of that highly-crowded nation.
All day long, however, the stage is filled with performers in flashing Indian garb who are dancing, singing, and playing instruments. Most are a myriad of local dance groups of all ages and both sexes (although I only saw one gender perform at a time; however, perhaps there are some mixed gender groups that appeared after we left). By the evening, however, they bring in a professional singer or dance group that seems to be well known among the native population, although I have never heard of them (nor do we ever stay that late to see them).
While we don't go every year, I wanted to make sure we did drop by this year since we are studying Hinduism right now in World Religions. And I think it did give my son a better visceral understanding of the vibrant and diverse culture of that fascinating country, India, as well as how Indians in this country are adapting and merging their cultures. For example, many of the performances seemed like they were introducing more Western musical influences, such as hip hop, into their traditional Indian music and dance. My favorite trans-cultural show, however, was Bollywood meets Saturday Night Fever, in which a number of pint-sized Travoltas sang in Hindi (or some language I didn't understand), until it came to the chorus, in which the word "Disco" was exclaimed multiple times, all the while with the young boys doing the classic "finger touches hip, then swings and points above the opposite shoulder" that was the rage during Disco-mania in the US.
The following are a few photos to capture the color and action of this annual festival. If you live in the area and have never been, you should definitely check it out some year.