Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Waitakere Diwali: Auckland Council needs to learn from this community event

Waitakere Diwali: Unlike any other, shines the West.

Thakur Ranjit Singh

Ram Darbar (Kingdom of Lord Ram)-the reason for celebrating Diwali  at Trusts Stadium, Henderson, Auckland, performed by multiracial students of Hare Rama Hara Krishna (ISKCON). Unfortunately such scenes are missing from modernised, commercialised and "bastardised " Diwali celebrations, used for Public Relations and Tourism by Local Government and Corporate Interests. Diwali celebrations should be managed by those who understand its theme and significance. WAITAKERE INDIAN ASSOCIATION Diwali is an eye-opener to all.

[This article is intended to show, how a small organisation run by like-minded community-oriented individuals, working on a voluntary basis eclipse resource-rich local bodies and corporate-run festivals. It is a lesson to other organisations and local government to emulate Waitakere Indian Association, and find out why they excel in what they do. Working with grass roots community and maintaining social appropriateness and cultural sensitivities of Indian Community, they are a shining light for bickering organisations and resource-rich government-supported organisations.]

Part of Waitakere Indian Association team who organised the very successful and theme-oriented event. None of them are paid officials-all are volunteers who have passion towards their community.

It was a chilly, windy and damp Saturday, but this inclement weather was unsuccessful in dampening the spirits of die-hard Diwali supporters as they thronged to see cultural items, stage dramas Bhangra and young multiracial dancers rocking the stage at Trusts Stadium, Henderson. This was in the House of Diwali on 12 October, 2013 in the largest indoor Diwali in NZ.

The Chief Guest, Minister for Social Development, gets camouflaged as an Indian in her attractive Indian costume for the event, seen at the craft stall with WIA Executive, Shalvin Ballu.
There was galore of craft stalls with Indian artefacts, jewellery, clothing, kids amusements, face painting, trade stalls and banking and financial advisory services. The food stalls were the added attraction with aroma of authentic Indian cooking drifting in the chilly wing. As usual, the attraction was Masala Dosa, Hare Krishna and many assorted Indian food stalls. The stalls were by individuals or small time family enterprises from the community. Absence were big corporates, this was about the community. Even in their philanthropic spirit and the spirit of Diwali, Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) gave free stalls to families collecting funds for treatment of sick relatives. Would any other Diwali organiser do that?

The Labour team at the craft stalls. New Labour Leader David Cunliffe is seen inspecting stall (centre)  with (from left) Ami Chand (newly elected Whau Local Board member, and Labour List MP Rajen Prasad.
When the President of Waitakere Indian Association (WIA) Naveen Prakash  stood up on the main dais to welcome all during the formal programme, he outlined  the award-winning history of an organisation which started on a humble beginning and grew into a body representing migrant Indians.” We are proud of the track record of our organisation, and this is a tribute to my hard working and united team,” he said.
Naveen Prakash, President of Waitakere Indian Association during formal ceremony....proud of leading a hard working, passionate and dedicated team of volunteers.
Diwali Project Manager, Roneel Singh reminded some uniqueness of WIA Diwali. “ There is something unique about our Diwali. Firstly, this would be perhaps the only or very few Diwali celebration of its size where the actual community and those who feel passionately about the festival actually run and manage this function,” Roneel said.

He went on to inform that the House of Diwali, The Trusts Stadium, happens to be the largest indoor Diwali Festival in New Zealand, hence, it is weather-proof. The most important point came last where he emphasised that unlike other festivals around Auckland, his community-based organisation was fully-run by volunteers.
Waitakere Indian Association Vice-President and Waitakere Diwali Project Manager RONEEL SINGH (left) with Labour Leader, David Cunliffe during the formal ceremony..."we are appreciative of religious, cultural, traditional decorum, demeanour and sensitivity of the event. Hence we ensure that tradition of Diwali theme will not erode under this community- organised event,” [Roneel Singh]
“I wish to elaborate that unlike other corporate or council organised Diwali events, WIA does not have any paid officials managing this event. It is all done by volunteers, and as a community organisation, we are appreciative of religious, cultural, traditional decorum, demeanour and sensitivity of the event. Hence we ensure that tradition of Diwali theme will not erode under this community- organised event,” he said.

[This was an indirect reference to Auckland City celebration which has little, if any sensitivity to the respect of Diwali. It is organised mostly by paid officials and non-Indians. These paid officials have little empathy with the community and little appreciation of sensitivities and cultural appropriateness of the events they are organising. Public relations and commercialisation become their priority. This year they had Lotto (gambling) and people complained about half-naked people performing. Waitakere Diwali has strict rules about dress code and other issues safeguarding sanctity and reverence to Diwali.]

The team from ISKCON in their traditional costumes, add the flavour to the solemn theme and sanctity of Diwali (unfortunately missing from commercialised Diwali events.)
And that is what really happened. Prior to the official programme, Ram Lila stage drama, based of Ramayan, was very skilfully performed by ISKCON (Hare Krishna) group. Ram Lila depicted the traditional and religious reasons for Diwali and messages of triumph of light over darkness, good over evil and life over death.

Chief Guest, Social Development Minister, Paula Bennet, addressing the audience, flanked by Trade Minister Tim Grosser on the right..."best organised association" [Minister Paula Bennet, speaking of WIA]
Chief Guest, Social Welfare Minister Paula Bennet graced the occasion in very attractive Indian costume. She commended WIA as the best organised association where so many children performed who were not of Indian origin, and this augured well for future NZ where they would grow up with friends of all nationalities and will grow as  New Zealanders with rich cultures.

CEO one of the major sponsors,Robert Khan (centre) flanked by Immediate \Past President of WIA, Sunil Chandra (left) and Manoj Tahal, Events Director of WIA....fortunes of Radio Tarana has grown with WIA Diwali, with Radio Tarana as the most-listened Indian and ethnic Radio Station.
Robert Khan, Managing Director of Radio Tarana, concurred with Minister Paula Bennet that WIA was the best community organisation he has worked with, without infighting, personal gains and scandals. “WIA is pride of west, the best I have seen,” Robert Khan said, adding that the association of the last 8 years have continued to grow, as their listenership has been growing, up to 45,000 listeners on a weekly basis, highest for ethnic stations.

Labour Leader, David Cunliffe, (left) with other Labour parliamentary colleagues, Rajen Prasad (centre) and Phil Twyford, during formal ceremony...."We are still defining unique Asia-Pacific fusion and that is modern New Zealand..." [David Cunliffe].
New Labour Leader, David Cunliffe echoed the hard work of WIA and commended NZ as being a young nation. “We are still defining unique Asia-Pacific fusion and that is modern New Zealand, and in West Auckland we are at forefront of that,” said a very jovial, confident and enthusiastic new Labour Leader, Cunliffe.

The tear-jerker drama, Hindu mythological version of the prince and the pauper- Krishna-Sudama, which depicts the bond of friendship between Lord Krishna and a poor class-mate, Sudama- a very pertinent message for modern children.
The stage drama by ISKCON that followed was a tear-jerker as we saw the Hindu mythological friendship of the prince and the pauper- Krishna-Sudama. This drama was very skilfully executed by multiracial ISKCON students. It gave a lesson of humility and long-lasting bond of friendship between unequal individuals, surviving the trials and tribulation of life.

Part of the invited guests with WIA Officials
As the evening advanced, anticipation of the annual popular Waitakere Diwali fireworks grew. So did the tempo of the items. The climaxing grand fireworks display lighted up the clear and a little chilly Waitakere skies. The boom of the fireworks seemed to echo and reverberate against the far off Waitakere ranges. The trails of fireworks, with booms, clattering and sizzles silhouetted funny smoky shapes against clear blue skies. In fact the booming fireworks spoke about the success of yet another Waitakere Diwali organised by the West community - Waitakere Indian Association, which ensures the tradition and honour of Diwali are not diluted or eroded by increased commercialisation and westernisation. Congratulations for a job well-done.

WAITAKERE INDIAN ASSOCIATION - an exemplary organisations for others to emulate and learn from.

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