High Commissioner of India to the UK, H.E. Mr. Y.K.Sinha, accompanied by Mrs. Girija Sinha inaugurated the first ever 'Diwali festival' organised jointly by the Consulate General of India, Birmingham and office of the Mayor of West Midlands on October 14, 2017. This landmark event entitled "Diwali on the Square" took place in the most prominent and iconic location in Central Birmingham, the Victoria Square. In the maiden joint attempt by Mayor of West Midlands Andy Street and Consul General Dr. Aman Puri to bring all communities together and showcase the diversity of Indian culture, this mega event succeeded in drawing a crowd of about 8000 people from all across Midlands and North England.
High Commissioner while addressing the gathering spoke about the rich cultural heritage of India, the cultural linkages between India and the UK, and the tremendous contribution of the Indian Diaspora in strengthening the Indian cultural roots in Britain. He mentioned that the United Kingdom is a wonderful example of how diverse cultures and communities can live together peacefully in harmony. High Commissioner also conveyed Diwali greetings to the gathering and the entire Indian community of West Midlands and North England, and spoke about the importance of the festival of Diwali in bringing all communities together. Applauding the role of Mayor of West Midlands in co-hosting the event along with the Consulate General of India, the High Commissioner presented a specially engraved memento to the Mayor Andy Street. The Mayor of West Midlands in his remarks emphasised the need to build communal harmony, and thanked the High Commissioner and Madam for attending the first joint celebrations as the 'Chief Guests' for the event.
Expectations had started to build among the members of the public even before the commencement of the event, an advance media campaign undertaken by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) in the run up to the event, kindled the curiosity of all. Drawn by the information spread through WMCA and Consulate General of India, Birmingham's websites, the social media platforms, posters, leaflets, hoardings on city busy stands, and radio announcements, a bevy of crowd had gathered in the Square on Saturday morning, even before the event actually started. The event kicked off at 1100 hrs in the morning with the pulsating beat of dhol players, clad in colourful traditional attire who took to the massive stage erected in the famous Victoria Square, in the backdrop of the Birmingham Town Hall and the Council House. Tastefully decorated stalls flanked the stage on either side which showcased a variety of Indian themes.
Three well-known religious organisations of the region namely- Europe's largest Hindu Temple Shree Venkateshwara (Balaji) Temple (which is spread over an area of 30 acres in Tividale, Birmingham), Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewa Jatha (Gurudwara, Soho Road), and its associated Nishkam Charity (one of the most pro-active organisations involved in selfless service worldwide) and the oldest Hindu Temple of Midlands- Shri Geeta Bhawan,Birmingham joined hands and offered 7,500 free food-packets to all visitors, as a gesture of goodwill.
Visitors also thronged the food stalls hosted by a reputed caterer to sample an impressive array of Indian street food. Several local firms/institutions, including the two Indian banks [SBI and ICICI] sponsored the event which was managed by a professional event management company. India Tourism Office, London put up an impressive 'Incredible India' stall with colourful banners, distributing pamphlets, and handouts giving tourism related information. 'Paryatan Parv' which is being observed from 5th to 25th of October 2017 was also highlighted through banners specially made by the Consulate of India.
The star performer and popular Punjabi singer Malkit Singh and his team put forth a captivating two hour long programme, with a multitude of popular songs which was repeatedly cheered by the crowd. The local celebrity and versatile artist Jas Wouhra gave a wonderful performance offering a medley of Hindi songs. A large array of cultural organisations also came forward to put up a scintillating performance for over two hours showcasing a wide cross-section of Indian cultural traditions, including dance forms like Yakshagana, Bharatanatyam, Rabindra Sangeet, Bollywood songs etc. This part of the cultural show was choreographed by Ms. Piali Ray, Director of the prestigious Asian Arts organisation SAMPAD UK.
Consul General, Dr. Aman Puri, during his vote of thanks conveyed his gratitude to the High Commissioner and Madam to grace the occasion. Subsequently, he thanked all religious organisations who got together, perhaps a first, to prepare and distribute food to all guests. He also thanked Birmingham Airport, KTC, VFS, ICICI, SBI for their support, and to Mr. Malkit Singh, renowned Punjabi artist, Ms. Piali Ray, Director, SAMPAD and Mr. Jas Wouhra for organising the cultural programme.
The event extended beyond the schedule time, while there was still a good crowd enjoying the show in the glorious afternoon sun. The joint effort of the Indian Consulate General in Birmingham and the Mayor of West Midlands' office was a huge success and if popular demand is any indicator, the show is set to be an annual event in the cultural calendar of Birmingham.