The much talked about first ever festival of Indian Lagos, held last Saturday at the Tafawa Balewa Square, Onikan, Lagos, was not just an amalgamation of Nigerian and Indian cultures but was also an occasion for exchange of trade, enriched by the participation of renowned international and contemporary stars, dancers, dramatic artists, distinguished scholars and top government officials from India and Nigeria. Writes Mary Ekah

The Festival of Indian Lagos, according to the Chief Executive Officer, Gaurapad Charities and Chairman organising committee, Mr. Bolaji Rosiji, aims to “celebrate cultural unity and diversity for national and global peace. He had said earlier before the event kicked off that the festival with the Ratha Yatra (chariot) as its central spectacle has an inestimable impact on the minds and hearts of literally countless casual visitors and active participants in major cities worldwide. The festival originated in the holy city of Puri, India. According to Rosiji, the festival has been celebrated for thousands of years and it’s “a grand culmination of a series of celebrations spread over the summer and the monsoon month and is the most splendid of them all.”

Organised in collaboration with International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and the India Diaspora in Lagos, the Festival of Indian Lagos, is designed to bridge the cultural gap between India and Nigeria.

Highlights of the festival were a procession display of various Indian costumes, dressing and dance groups representing different states in India parading across the major roads in Lagos mainland. Igbokiti from Western Nigeria slugged it out with the Kerala Samaj – an ethnic group from Southern India. While the Durbar Horsemen raced with their Punjabi counterparts from Northern India – heavily bearded, Powerbiking, turbaned and screaming Punjabis who added spice to the blend.

The dances ranged from traditional to classical and were typical of Indian dances. The main dance motifs were the hand gestures in their various manipulations that ended with the fingers seeming to weave invisible threads in the air; there were also the waist twists, the hand-clapping, the back and forth circular dances, the back and forth leg thrusts and heads nodding in particular directions.
But there was really little or no variation from one region to another in the dances as would be expected from such a large country, and as one would experience among the various Nigerian regions. Dances that range from, say, Atilogwu, Nmanwu, Opiri, Bata, Owhigiri, Swange, etc, from Igbo, Ndokwa, Isoko, Yoruba, Ijaw, Tiv and many more. There was a sort of certain uniformity in the Indian dances that almost erase any hint of diversity in that vast sub-continent.

Earlier in the day, a procession of three carnival of chariots had walked all the way from CMS to Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS), venue of the event; it had thousands of people in tow. The parade was a total showstopper, as three gigantic hands pulled chariots from the ancient city of Orissa towered high into the Lagos skyline.

And when the festival started late in the afternoon, Indian performers, mostly children and women, took to the stage and entertained the audience with the various musical and performance styles of the different regions of the largest democracy in the world.
The Igbokiti cultural group won first prize in the Parade category, while the Oriya Samaj won first prize in the Chariot Design category.There was also Indo-Nigerian Expo and then the concert. The festival afforded an opportunity for an international Expo with up to 115 corporate bodies, ethnic exhibitors and retailers taking stalls at the TBS, Lagos,

Rosiji revealed further that his organisation had collaborated with Lagos State, through its Ministry of Culture and Inter-Governmental Affairs, for a successful festival. Consequently, the Lagos Ministry of Commerce was conspicuously visible all through the duration of the festival as it accompanied 15 SMEs to the venue to help showcase their works in the international arena. Food vendor also occupied a section while another section advertised fashion and jewelries while all other stalls of the Festival of India Lagos were beautifully decorated.

The festival, which featured internationally renowned traditional and contemporary musicians, dancers and dramatic artistes from India and Nigeria, witnessed fantastic concert that began its performances with colourful display by children from the various Indian Samajas and cultural shows from all over India.

Up-and-coming acts like Aditi (Nigeria) and Pandey (India) were also given opportunity. Pandey surprised and thrilled the Nigerian audience with his rendition of Emergency from Dbanj and other Nigerian songs in Nigerian languages.

Top Bollywood star, Yuvika and Anup Jalota, as well as Nigeria’s Sammy Okposo, Tee Mac, Ara and Pasuma also thrilled the audience.
To the shock of every one present at the event, Yamuna, an Eastern Nigerian dancer who had studied in India, took the lead in the Indian classical dance category. Yamuna was brisk and controlled, with intricate finger gestures, characteristic of the complex Kathak style. Even the Indian audience was held spellbound by her footwork. Yamuna had chosen a particularly difficult repertoire.

Festival of Indian Lagos was indeed enriched by the participation of other renowned international and contemporary stars, dancers, dramatic artists, distinguished scholars and top government officials from India and Nigeria. It afforded Nigerians and the international audience a rich exposition of the Indian musical tradition.

Rosiji further described the festival as a collaborative project for the revival of SMEs in Lagos State, adding, “We need to come out of this unprecedented economic crisis by building Nigeria from the bottom up. The largest economy in Africa (Nigeria) and the second largest SME network in the world, India, will partner for mutual benefit.”

Indeed, the maiden edition of the Festival of Indian Lagos, made possible by Mr. Bolaji Rosiji-inspired Gaurapad Charities and other supporting brands that have Indian imprint, was a success. It showcased the large gathering of Indian community in the country in one colourful event.

It was indeed, a great outing for the first Festival of Indian Lagos that also served as a mini-fair display for Indian commercial success in Nigeria. No doubt, Indians in Nigeria now have a moment in the cultural calendar to look forward to when they would celebrate themselves in Nigeria as they have been celebrating in London, New York, Durban and South Africa.