A scene from 1981, when the Festival of India got its start (Photo courtesy Hindu Center of Virginia)
In 1981, a few dozen members of Richmond’s Indian population put together a day of music, dance and information at John B. Cary Elementary School.
“It wasn’t a big affair, just a few booths, because the Indian population here was much less at the time, maybe 20 families,” says Vijay Ramnarain, board chairman of the Hindu Center of Virginia.
Over 1,500 people came out. “Right from the outset, we had quite a bit of non-Indian attendance,” Ramnarain says. “The goal has always been to bring some of our culture and share it with our new fellow countrymen.”
This Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 24 and 25, that gathering marks its 35th year as the Festival of India. Last year it hosted close to 20,000 visitors for two days at the Greater Richmond Convention Center.
“When I first came in 1984, it was at the Arthur Ashe Center by then, and the Indian population had grown to about 100 families,” Ramnarain says. “It started taking off from there.”
Thirteen thousand people of Indian descent live in the metro Richmond area, and Virginia has the sixth highest Indian population by percentage. By contrast, the 1980 census lists only 606 people of Indian descent in the city.
This year’s theme, “Festivals of India,” is a reminder that India, like America, is a vast, multicultural country. “There are festivals in various spots in India at different times of the year – Hindu festivals, Christian festivals, Muslim festivals,” says Ramnarain. “We’re trying to provide a glimpse of the festivals in various regions in India.”
The event features food, music, dance, yoga, craft vendors, and information sessions with a focus on health and wellness. Proceeds go to the Hindu Center of Virginia, a nonprofit organization with culture and language classes open to all members of the Richmond community.