The India Center is an all-volunteer non-profit organization launched in 2003 to promote Traditional Indian Arts
On turning 18
When a child turns 18 years old, he is considered to be mature enough to take his own decisions and chart his own way in the world. But when an institution turns 18 it is just the beginning of the journey. And when you have an organization run solely by volunteers the journey is even harder. It is a time to thank all those who have supported us in the past and to reflect on the path we need to take in the coming years.
We wish to thank our friends at Manhattan Neighborhood Network who have always gone beyond their call of duty to help us out. Without them there would be no India Center.
Keshav Das for his help and Eddie Stern for letting us use his Patanjali Yoga Studio to launch the Saraswati Arts Festival.
We also wish to thank all our dedicated volunteers who have put in blood sweat and tears to make our events happen. Some of them have worked with us for years – Atul Kapoor, Ashu Kapoor, Anita Ghei, Deepti Vij, Dinesh Pai, Sonali Daripkar, Navin Hadge, Charles Caminiti, Gloria Messer, Patricia Rios, Jasmine Lindo, Nat Wood, Devorah Hill, Nelson Torres, Dylan Reilly, Jonathan Moon, and scores of others whose names we cannot include because of the paucity of space.
A special thank you to the team at Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for believing in us and supporting so many of our projects and to Google for their grant.
And last but not the least our immense gratitude to all the amazing teachers and students especially the little ones some as young as four years old, whose devotion to traditional Indian Arts despite the lack of resources and support is heartening. We had two little boys perform regularly at our festivals. The children would wake up at 3:00 am on Sundays and were driven by their mother a doctor with a busy work schedule, all the way from their home near PA to their teacher’s home in Long Island NY for their 6:00 am Carnatic Music lessons. They inspire us to do our best and remind us how Indian Culture has survived despite all odds.
When the India Center was launched in 2003 with just a few friends, the goal was to host events that would give children a platform to display their talent in Traditional Indian Arts. Most of the money and resources for the arts has been taken up by Bollywood and there is little space left for Traditional Arts. We felt that our youth who study Traditional Arts which has been passed on from generation to generation through the Guru Shishya Parampara needed our support.
The first hurdle came with the name itself. We were advised by one gentleman to drop the name Saraswati Classical Arts Festival because it would put off donors and instead call it the South Asian Arts Festival to appeal to a wider audience. We politely declined his suggestion and decided we would keep the name with or without donations. The first Saraswati Classical Arts Festival was launched on a princely grant of $740/-
There was no way we could afford to rent an auditorium in New York City with that budget. The only space we managed to get with the help of a friend was a Yoga Studio in Soho. Interestingly, the space had 3 little temples for Ganesh, Shiva, and Krishna. The Saraswati Classical Arts began with the Abhishek of the 400-year-old image of Ganesh – the way Indian Dance was traditionally performed.
We had 26 children perform at the event. The following year we received a larger grant and we decided to launch our second project, the Natraj Folk Arts Festival at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. We had 70 artists performing at the event. And we continued our live festivals until 2020 when Corona arrived. We postponed our festivals hoping that the epidemic would go away, and we could go back to hosting live events. But it did not, so we decided to go virtual. We were of course not happy about going from shooting in a multi-million-dollar television studio to streaming home videos virtually but then we had to learn to adapt. “The only constant in life is change”- Heraclitus
In the middle of the Pandemic, we were contacted by an Indian Dance teacher from Qatar saying his students would like to participate in our festival. The children performed folk dances from various regions of India – Punjab, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu… and suddenly the festival went from being an event for Indian Artists in New York to an event for young Indian Artists from halfway around the globe. Out of something bad came something good.
As the India Center turns 18, we will go from hosting two events a year to hosting eight events spanning twenty sessions. We are launching a brand- new series of Workshops on Indian Dance and Music by some extraordinarily talented instructors who will give our audience a glimpse of Indian Culture.
We launched the series with a Bharatanatyam Workshop by a third generation, dance teacher Guru Lavanyaa Surendar. The reaction to the event was amazing. It was wonderful to see our participants engaged in a subject they know little about.
We will continue our series with some more brilliant instructions and hope to support artists and educate art lovers for years to come.