The traditional Indian festival of Diwali has been embraced by Auckland. Last year's two-day festival attracted 35,000 people enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of the subcontinent. Again this year, there's traditional food, arts and crafts and dancing but there are plenty of new and different events to experience this weekend.
Celebrations centre on Aotea Square and the adjacent section of Queen St, Under the tagline of "Spice up your life", Auckland Council's Tourism, Events and Economic Development arm (ATEED) and the Asian New Zealand Foundation have put together a programme of Indian music, dance, fashion and food, plus live performances, workshops and kids' activities. The weekend culminates in the Barfoot and Thompson-sponsored fireworks finale at 9pm on Sunday night.
This year there are more than 60 food and craft stalls, the largest number in the festival's 14-year history. International performers this year include Indian puppeteer and master storyteller Mahipat Kavi, and Mudra Creation, a Lavani folk dance group from Maharashtra State, in which the female dancers perform in lavish, 9 metre long saris. The cricket bowling nets, which proved popular last year in the build-up to the Cricket World Cup, will be back this year, as will the Indian weddings expo and the Radio Tarana Bollywood dance competition. New Zealand's foremost sitar player, Lester Silver, will also be performing.
Here are a few other highlights:
Dancing policemen (and women)
The police force might promote itself as providing "better work stories", and this is surely one of them: a group of uniformed officers performing a bhangra dance routine on stage at the festival. The seven-member group has been coordinated by Counties Manukau district ethnic services coordinator Mandeep Kaur, the only female officer in the group and New Zealand's first female Indian police officer. She got the idea of forming an all-police troupe following a cameo performance by a couple of uniformed officers with her community dance group at last year's festival.
"The response from the crowd was huge," Kaur says. "It gave me the thought of having a full team in uniform for the next event. It just gives us a different platform to engage with the ethnic community."
Kaur says the group has been coached in modern bhangra -- a traditional dances, set to pop-style music -- by a professional teacher and have tried out their moves at a local Vaisakhi festival. Kaur is the only female officer who will be performing on the day but other female officers -- and non-Indians -- have been involved in the project.
"Internally within the police force we feel as if we have been very much supported to celebrate our own festival. It is very special to us as ethnic officers within the New Zealand Police."
Kids' rangoli workshops
Colourful, geometric rangoli patterns are an important part of Indian celebrations, and kids can try their hand at the folk art form at the festival. Indian-born, Auckland-based contemporary artist Smita Upadhye is running workshops at which kids follow a template to create their own rangoli -- and, unlike the traditional art form, take it home.
Traditional rangoli is created using coloured powder sprinkled directly onto floors, tables or streets, but is not glued or fixed, and as such is a temporary art form. At the Auckland festival, budding artists can chose one of three templates to colour and decorate.
Upadhye has created rangoli herself since childhood, and has created rangoli-style portraits of such luminaries as Helen Clark and Sir Edmund Hillary. The technique was traditionally handed down the female line of families, and is used to decorate homes at festival times and for guests.
"It is especially used at Diwali time, because of a belief that the goddess Lakshmi likes colourful decoration, and at Diwali if you decorate around your house with rangoli, she will be pleased and come into the house."
Kiwi Indian Thought Series
On a more serious note, Kiwis, Indians, Kiwi Indians and everyone else can get an insight into the experiences and ideas of immigrants at the Indian Weekender Kiwi Indian Thought Series. Organiser Annu Sharma, editor of Indian Weekender, says the series of talks will be around the theme of "From India to New Zealand."
"We got involved last year with a few speakers, but we realised that because people are in the festive mood, they don't want to come and listen to intellectual conversations and stuff like that, so the Thought Series will be something more interactive," Sharma says. "We have encouraged people to talk about their own experiences, and some really interesting speakers have come forward, wanting to talk about different things."
Speakers include a yoga instructor, who will teach the audience a breathing exercise, and a chef, who will talk about the influence of Indian cuisine on his cooking style.
"Diwali is not just about music, food and dance, and we want to complete the whole Diwali experience," Sharma says.
Visitors to the festival have the chance to witness -- and be a part of -- an interactive art installation. "Between Worlds" is a collaboration between Kiwi artist Brydee Rood and Indian artist Harpreet Singh, who will lead a procession between Aotea Square and the Auckland Art Gallery in Kitchener St. At the gallery the display of miniature paintings telling the story of the epic journey of legendary Indian hero Rama fill rooms especially coloured in rich Indian colours.
Rood says participants in the procession will carry one of 52 saffron-dyed flags made from turban fabric, inspired by the story of 52 princes who were falsely imprisoned with Rama. Festival-goers can either carry a flag or accompany the procession, which connects water features such as fountains along the route down Queen Street, up Wellesley St, into Lorne St and through Khartoum Place to the art gallery. The flags are then placed in the large water feature outside the gallery.
Rood says the performance walk reflects not only Indian traditions and the story of Rama but also contemporary concerns about migration and refugees, and the cultural diversity of Auckland. "We are thinking about all the people of the world, not just the 52 princes -- about the movement and displacement of people, between worlds, as well as between the Diwali festival and the art gallery."
Ride with me
If you want to save your legs for Bollywood dancing, cruising the food stalls and taking part in the procession, you can take a load off your feet in true Indian style. ASB has a rickshaw service for its customers for the event, running from Britomart to the Diwali Festival entrance on Queen St. Show your ASB card and you're off.
Need to know
For a full programme, see aucklandnz.com/diwali
• Counties Manukau police bhangra dance performance, Sunday 8pm, main stage.
• Kids' rangoli workshops with Smita Upadhye, 12-5pm Saturday and Sunday, Level 5, Aotea Centre.
• Kiwi Indian Thought Series, 5-7pm Saturday and Sunday, Classical Music Stage, Aotea Centre.
• "Between Worlds" art installation and procession between Aotea Square and the Auckland Art Gallery, 1pm Saturday and Sunday
• ASB rickshaws, running from Britomart to Aotea Square, midday to 9pm Saturday and Sunday, free for ASB customers.