Despite the snow piling up in the parking lot and temperatures remaining in the teens, the Central Middle School Performing Arts Center in Eden Prairie managed to capture the full spirit of spring on Saturday, March 18.
Six hours of festivities commenced with a bazaar that offered Indian handicrafts, gifts, and plenty of socializing. India’s diverse culture was on full display as community members dressed in their colorful regional attire. The vibrant colors of spring descended from the sky to celebrate Holi.
The show then moved to the huge auditorium, where more than 600 festival guests were entertained with music and dance performances, preceded by a formal prayer and the lighting of the ceremonial fire.
Festivities included traditional classical and folk dances and a Bollywood fair, all of which provided ample entertainment. It culminated in a gala dinner.
Festivals: Means for community outreach
EPLN spoke to HSMN executive committee president Padma Naidu and vice-president Shajive Jeganathan about the organization’s long-term goals and what they hope to achieve by organizing off-site functions. HSMN already has a large temple complex in Maple Grove.
Naidu explained that such programs help to strengthen HSMN’s outreach efforts beyond the religious confines of the temple and into the broader community. HSMN organizes events in different parts of the state to expand its reach, with attendees traveling from as far as Fargo, North Dakota.
The organization also reaches out to universities in Minnesota and neighboring states, mobilizing student organizations and public forums and encouraging attendees to bring friends. She added, “We want them to experience our culture and food.”
While Holi has Hindu origins, Naidu emphasized that it is celebrated by people of all religions in India. Additionally, the festival’s positive, inclusive, and loving character has universal appeal, attracting audiences worldwide, including the United States.
Holi and Diwali: Two anchor celebrations
“Every year, HSMN hosts two major events in the Twin Cities,” Naidu said. “The first is Holi, the festival of colors, celebrated in the spring, and the second is Diwali, the festival of lights, celebrated in autumn.” She believes these two celebrations not only bind India’s diaspora together but also serve to educate and showcase India’s culture and heritage in the broader community in the state.
Jeganathan further elaborated on the Holi program. “It gives a platform to young kids from their Hindu American Temple School (HATS) to perform,” he said. “They usually don’t get that opportunity in the much bigger Diwali program.”
HSMN invites local vendors, allowing them to conduct their business at the events.
The organization also ensures that the events are held in various parts of the state to expand its outreach. HSMN reaches out to student organizations and public forums, requesting them to bring their friends along.
Jeganathan wants “them to see our culture, let them experience our food.”
Eden Prairie: Home of Minnesota’s biggest Indian diaspora
This year they chose Eden Prairie for its central location, impressive facilities, and parking. HSMN officials expect to return next year.
Ram Gada, a longtime Eden Prairie resident and emeritus and honorary counsel at the Minnesota Historical Society, cited data from the Historical Society dating back to 2016 (re-confirmed in 2018) that identified Eden Prairie as having the largest Indian diaspora in the area. The city accounts for approximately 5% of the total population of the Twin Cities, which is 61,000.
Eden Prairie’s large population of Indian diaspora was the decisive factor in choosing the location for the event.
Going beyond the Indian diaspora and programs relevant for future generations
Jeganathan has strategic goals for organizing such events. He wants to go beyond India’s diaspora. He is from Sri Lanka, and Hindu communities live in the Twin Cities from Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Trinidad, and other regions of the West Indies that have followed the same traditions for centuries despite ethnic diversities.
“We’ve been working with them to try to get them to perform. Generally, they perform at our much larger Diwali event,” he said.
Jeganathan uses the approach to engage second and third-generation members of the Indian diaspora. He has noticed a strong interest among this demographic to learn about their heritage in the language and style of their choice. As a result, the HATS school program was launched.
“We have classes teaching major Indian languages, classical music, dances, and yoga,” he said. “We also have summer camps on Hinduism.”
Last year, Jeganathan launched an internship program for high school and college students to be a part of the executive board and leadership. He aims to have them as crucial members of the board that drives decisions relevant to the next generation of leaders in the state and country. Currently, he has 28 interns and aims to reach 50 before his term ends.
He always asks those interested about their primary motivation to become an HSMN intern. A simple answer he gets is, “I am missing my roots. I want to be part of my roots.”
Jeganathan calls his work an experiment.
“Being in leadership position, I have a little bit of wiggle room to try these experiments,” he said. “I don’t know if it will work or not work. If it doesn’t, fine. At least we tried.”
Vijay Dixit is the chairman of Shreya R. Dixit Memorial Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization advocating for distraction-free driving. He is also a board member of Eden Prairie Local News and a member of the EPLN Development Committee and Journalism team.
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