Photo credit: Belfast Mela Official Page
Belfast Mela is one the biggest global cultural celebrations in Northern Ireland. This year, the 11th chapter was held at Botanic Gardens on August 27, which was attended by thousands of people.
Organised by ArtsEkta, an ethnic arts group, the festival featured music, dance, food and culture from many countries, including India. Among the artistes who enthralled the audience with their performances were several Indian-origin singers, dancers and musicians.
Attractions like an opening procession featuring Indian dancers and over 20 local Dhol players, an India-inspired ethnic bazaar, and Bollywood-themed specially designed marquee for children made the country come alive at the venue. The opening night featured renowned Sufi singer Salim Sabri. Salim, who is an acclaimed Qawwali performer, was inspired to take up the art from his maternal uncle, who is a singer in India. The celebrated player of Punjabi dhol drum, John Kalsi, also wowed the audience with his beats at the festival.
ArtsEkta, which is said to be Ireland’s first South Asian dance academy, was established in 2009 and focusses on dance forms such as Bollywood, Kathak and Bharatanatyam. Members of the organisation also showcased their art at the event.
“Mela is a celebration of our continuing journey to become a truly shared and cosmopolitan society where communities come together harmoniously and with mutual respect,” Nisha Tandon, the executive director at ArtsEkta, told BBC. “If this is the face of our new Belfast, we can all be proud, happy and inspired.”
Belfast Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister also attended the Mela on August 27.
Peter Osborne, chair of the Community Relations Council, said the festival showcased that growing diversity in Northern Ireland is “unstoppable”.
“You see the event getting bigger and bigger every year,” Osborne told BBC. “Chinese community, Indian community, Hindus, Muslims, Christians all together celebrating what is good about humanity as a whole.”
Belfast Mela was launched in 2007 by the ArtsEkta organisation to celebrate Northern Ireland’s increasing cultural diversity. The festival has grown to become one the biggest in the region, with annual audiences increasing from 5,000 to 30,000 over five years.