When Rahul Chopra started dancing at Diwali, the Indian cultural festival was held in a community hall and attracted maybe 1000 people.

Now, Chopra, the National Marketing Manager for Millennium and Copthorne Hotels, finds himself teaching hundreds of young performers dance techniques, as well as ways to overcome stage fright.

"When there are 10,000 - 20,000 people staring up at you and expecting you to entertain them, it can be a bit intimidating but, through dance and performing, you learn skills that will last you a lifetime."

Chopra believes the festival has grown not simply because Auckland's Indian population is rising. He says New Zealanders are also interested in learning more about other cultures and are open and welcoming.

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This year, he is mentoring the next generation of performers and working with more than a dozen groups performing at Diwali for the first time. But Auckland's Diwali Festival is now so well-known, it no longer attracts local groups alone. They have to foot it on the same stage as international performers who travel from India to be part of it. This year they include:

KATHAK DANCER
In the Assam region of North-eastern India, film star and model Meghranjani Medhi is known as the "dancing queen of Assam". Her family run a Kathak dance institute in Assam's largest city, Guwahati, and Medhi has been dancing since she was 3 years old.
In New Zealand, she'll be joined on stage by a group that includes her dancer and choreographer mother Mahami Medhi, and they perform to music by Meghranjani's composer father Joy Prakash Medhi.

Those who dance Kathak, one of 10 major Indian classical dance forms, traditionally wear heavy bells strapped around their ankles and use arm gestures, upper body movements, facial expressions, bends and turns to tell stories.

Main Stage, Aotea Square: Saturday 3.20pm and 7.40pm; Sun 3.15pm, 5pm and 7.40pm.

Puppet master Vinod Bhatt comes to the Auckland Diwali Festival from Jaipur in North India.
Puppet master Vinod Bhatt comes to the Auckland Diwali Festival from Jaipur in North India.
PUPPETS

Puppeteers from the nomadic Bhatt community once travelled from village to village using puppets to tell popular stories from the sacred epic poems, the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Puppet master Vinod Bhatt now journeys much further - his troupe of Rajasthani puppeteers is based in Jaipur in North India - to present the humorous traditional art form that dates back more than 1000 years.

The painted puppets are still hand-carved from mango wood, and wear bright costumes fashioned from scraps of cloth. But in recent years, the puppeteers have joined forces with social agencies to help educate people about issues such as Aids and women's rights.

Barfoot & Thompson Hub on Queen St: Saturday and Sunday; 12.30pm and 2.30pm

Iinternationally acclaimed artist Venkat Shyam has developed his own style of Gond art, drawing from myth, oral history and nature, but using bright acrylic colours on canvas and paper.
Iinternationally acclaimed artist Venkat Shyam has developed his own style of Gond art, drawing from myth, oral history and nature, but using bright acrylic colours on canvas and paper.
GOND ARTIST

The traditional continues to meet the contemporary through the work of internationally acclaimed artist Venkat Shyam.

Shyam comes from the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh in central India, which is known for its mural painting, using natural colours derived from charcoal, soil, plants and cow dung to depict celebrations and man's relationship with nature. He has developed his own style of Gond art. It still draws inspiration from Gond myth, oral history and nature, but uses bright, acrylic colours on canvas and paper, and in mixed media and film animation.

Shyam's work includes 16 paintings based on the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, which he witnessed. Last year, he published his first book, a graphic autobiography Finding My Way.

In Auckland, he'll do demonstrations and take part in interactive workshops.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Marquee: Saturday and Sunday, 12-5pm

Former graffiti artist Parth Kothekar carves delicate artworks using a pencil, a sheet of paper and a sharp blade.
Former graffiti artist Parth Kothekar carves delicate artworks using a pencil, a sheet of paper and a sharp blade.
PAPER CUT ARTIST

Parth Kothekar is from Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad, and was a 25-year-old undergraduate drop-out and graffiti artist when he discovered the ancient Indian art of paper cutting (sanjhi). Kothekar now carves delicate artworks using a pencil, a sheet of paper and a sharp blade. It was while he was experimenting with graffiti stencils that the idea of paper cuts came to him. It took six months to study and learn what to make and which paper to use, and the technical know-how.

Initially it took him several days to make one artwork, but recently he completed a highly intricate work in just 15 hours.

Asia New Zealand Foundation Marquee: Saturday and Sunday, noon-5pm