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Thousands Throng to Sunnyvale Diwali Mela
By SUNITA SOHRABJI
indiawest.com
October 29, 2008 06:02:00 PM

SUNNYVALE, Calif. - More than 6,000 people thronged to the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple here for an entertainment-packed, three-day Diwali Mela, which began Oct. 24.

The mela, now in its 14th year, featured Bollywood playback singer Vinod Rathod of “Lage Raho Munna Bhai” fame, and Hindustani classical vocalist Shubha Mudgal. Rathod performed to a packed house on the evening of Oct. 25, and in the afternoon the following day, while Mudgal kicked off the mela Friday evening, also to a sold-out hall.

Mudgal, the winner of a Padma Shri in 2000, began her set with “Rangeelo taro dholna,” then continued with songs from her new CD, “Pyaar Ke Geet.”

Resplendently dressed in a shimmery silk sari in several shades of eggplant and gold, Mudgal brought the audience to their feet with her classic “Seekho na” from the film “Ab ke Sawan,” then continued singing late into the evening.

After some initial delays, Rathod took to the stage Sunday afternoon, walking in from the back of the large auditorium as fans snapped photos and shook hands. His performance, produced by Natwar Thakkar of 999 Enterprises, began with a smoke-filled stage, which gradually cleared to reveal Rathod, clad entirely in black, with a knee-length coat and hat, in the style of the late country singer Johnny Cash.

After an initial set with local singer Nalini Kulkarni, Rathod invited septuagenarian Lakshmi Murthy from the audience to dance onstage with him. “Are you married?” asked the flirty Rathod in a gravel-scratched voice. Murthy parried back instantly, saying her 35-year-old son just got married.

As the singer warmed up his audience with the perennial favorite, “Mere sapnon ki rani,” other members of the audience jumped onstage to dance, including oldster Arvind Kachi, who belied his gray hair by performing a high-spirited dance with many pirouettes.

San Francisco Bay Area singer Alka Bhatnagar preceded Rathod, with a rocking set of Bollywood film songs. Bhatnagar also brought Cisco engineer Raj Sohal to the stage, who sang classic songs in the style of popular Indian playback singer Mohammed Rafi. She also sang with Jyoti Pande, director of consulting at Oracle.

The festival also featured a rath yatra on Saturday afternoon, traditional pujas, and an antaakshari contest. A tented mini-bazaar was set up outside the performance hall, feturing booths selling Indian handicrafts, clothing, children’s books, jewelry, financial services and a variety of food.

Several non-profit organizations also had booths at the festival, including the Second Harvest Food Bank, the Lions’ Club, Ekal Vidyalaya, and the Asian American Donor Program.

“It was a super successful weekend,” Raj Bhanot, co-founder and treasurer of the Sunnyvale Hindu Temple, told India-West, adding that this year’s festival may have been the best to date.

Ticket prices were increased from $5 to $7 for the first time, but the increased price did not deter the crowds, he said. Booth rentals — which ranged from $250 for non-profit organizations to $750 for food booths — were also up from 43 last year to 57 at this year’s mela.

A $5 million renovation project has been planned for the temple, to expand its kitchen and auditorium facilities. Plans for the project have already been approved by the city of Sunnyvale, said Bhanot, adding that construction will begin once financing has been secured.  Special Thanks, courtsey India West