Culture

IF YOU visit Woking’s Maybury Centre on Tuesday mornings, you will have found a group of elderly Nepalese women working together to create lanterns using newspapers and recycled paper. Guided by their very enthusiastic art teacher Mrs Maria Lima, the ladies have been making traditional Nepalese basket ‘Doko’ shaped lanterns for Woking’s annual Diwali celebration to be held on 31 October.

Sara, Darsh, Arjun, Arjun will be performing some Bollywood dance steps

Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights which celebrates the victory of good over evil, is an important festival for the people of Indian and Nepali origin. Woking’s Diwali event is one that is widely celebrated and not just by those who believe in the festival’s cultural or religious significance, it is an evening which brings the town’s diverse community together.

The programme starts with a lantern procession near the council office at 6pm and culminates around 7.30pm at the HG Wells centre where a two-hour cultural programme follows. Woking residents representing at least five local community groups including the Surrey Hindu Cultural Association, the Sayapatri Nepalese Association, Woking Malayalee Association, Woking Telugu Association and Surrey Tamils are participating in this year’s show.

(Front to back) Jayshree, Purna, Usha Rani and Vidhya

Local school children and scouts and guides groups are usually involved in lantern making but there will be little or no representation from these as this year’s event is coinciding with Halloween and half term holidays. That said, the parade will be complete with battery operated lanterns provided by the council’s art and culture department, handmade lanterns by Nepalese women, York Road Housing Project and others.

“Woking Diwali celebration supported by the Woking Borough Council is unique because it doesn’t just involve people who have faith (in the festival),” says 73-year-old Rajendra Chhetri, who has been involved in organising the festival since its early days.

Children and grownups from local families have been preparing for weeks to put on their best performances. Despite their busy school and after-school schedule, groups of five to seven-year-old girls and boys have been meeting for practice during evenings and weekends taught by enthusiastic mums who are motivated to keep their children connected to their culture.

Dance instructor Kavita with Khyati, Anika, Naina, Lakki, Aabha, Anaya, Asmi, Sathvika, Simar, Rishita

One such mum is Pallavi Baldawa Bhutada who has taken up the task of teaching Bollywood steps to a group of children (mostly boys). “Boys are mostly very active, and it is quite challenging to keep them focused on practicing dance steps over the weeks. Catchy Bollywood numbers make my job half done. Seeing them perform with so much joy gives me immense pleasure and motivation for next year too,” she said.

Another group of young mothers has been meeting at weekends to coordinate their steps for a fusion of classical and catchy Bollywood numbers. At the town centre, children from Goldsworth Primary School will also be enacting the story of Ramayana through a song and dance sequence.  Even as the weeks get busy with practice and preparation, children and their mums seem to love the celebration as it offers them a chance to get together.

For more information about the parade, the free to attend after party at HG Wells centre and to see photos from previous celebrations, please visit www.celebratewoking.info/diwali

For more Dawali content and pictures, see the 24 October edition of the News & Mail

CHRISTMAS is over and the cold weather is here to stay, but it’s not the end of the festive period just yet.

On February 10, the Old Woking Community Centre in Sunridge Road will come alive with the chants of mantras and the reverberation of music and dance as Prabashi, a registered local charity, hosts its annual Vasant Panchami celebration, now in its eleventh year.

Dancers perform as part of the Vasant Panchami celebration

In India, Vasant Panchami marks the arrival of spring and is celebrated across the country in different ways. In Woking, this event is celebrated with prayers, music and dance, and warms hearts at the peak of winter.

Forty-year-old Sumana Ghosh, who has been a voluntary cultural secretary for Prabashi since 2010 and is also a well-known face among Woking’s Indian community, talked to the News & Mail about the event.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about the Vasant Panchami celebrations in Woking? How and when did it all start?

A: The festival of Vasant Panchami usually falls between January or February and marks the arrival of spring. It is also a time to honour Saraswati, the goddess of knowledge, music and art. In many parts of India, especially Bengal and the North East, families with school or college-going children pray to Saraswati.  

The word Prabashi means a person living away from homeland. In 2008, a small group of around 10 people, most of whom worked in the IT department of Petrofac’s Woking branch, held the first Vasant Panchami event in Woking as we wanted our children to learn about our culture. Around 200 people attend this event now.

Sumana Ghosh, cultural secretary for Prabashi

Q: Could you provide some details about the event?

A: The event starts with a prayer, followed by prasad distribution and lunch. This is followed by a cultural programme, which is the main attraction of this event as it is all about singing, dancing and rejoicing. For over three hours, we see musical, drama and dance performances from children as well as adults. We have had children as young as two-year-olds and grown-ups perform Bollywood and classical dances in front of a hall full of very enthusiastic audience. We would like more children to participate in the programme.

Q: How is the event funded and when do the preparations begin?

A: The event is funded through tickets, which are used for paying the hall rent, arranging food and stage decorations. Until a few years ago, some of us ladies used to cook the food in our kitchens but as the event grew we outsourced this to caterers. We start preparing at least a month in advance. As the cultural secretary, I along with other Prabashi members, voluntarily teach dance to kids and ladies.

For more details, visit www.prabashi.org.uk.