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Colourful and culturally rich Sawan Mela Festival comes to Stanley Park this weekend

A celebration of Vancouver's cultural diversity.

Live performers, such as this young Giddah dancer make up only part of the two day festival's impressive line up.

Sawan might mean the months between May to June in Punjab and Hindi, and Mela might mean festival, but together these words not only describe a celebration during the rainy season in India, but they also form the name of an upcoming South East Asian arts festival taking place at Stanley Park this weekend.

Hosted by SAFA, the South Asian Family Association, the Sawan Mela Festival is a free,  family friendly festival taking place from 2pm-12am on Saturday June 12 and 12pm to 6pm on Sunday June 13 at Stanley Park's Lumberman Arch, just north of the Vancouver Aquarium.

With a free shuttle from Burrard Station to the site of activities, not only is the festival family and commuter friendly (as in not having to pay for parking), but it also promises to be entertaining.

Over the course of two days, Sawan Mela boasts many talented performers,  food such as corn on the cob, dosas (savory pancakes) and chole bhatura (puffed bread with chickpeas), a marketplace and a chance to take in the South Asian culture first hand with Bhangra dancers and Turban tying demonstrations.

At 7:30 p.m. on Saturday the festival will present a free movie event entitled Bollywood Under the Stars and screen the Hindi romantic comedy Kuch Kuch Hota Hai = Somthing Happens.

Free fun aside, the festival has deep meaning for the South Asian community. It started in 2001 during a time that Nina Sohi-Brar, of Gemini Events and Management, described as having had a lot of "media sensationalism" around Indo-Canadian gang warfare and drugs. The festival aims to counteract negative stereotypes and promote positive South Asian images and role models.

“It’s important for us to transcend clichés…that we are all taxi drivers, doctors or criminals,”  Brar said.

“South Asians come in all forms and sizes. For our first generation families, the festival is important in integrating into a new society by showing them other cultures. For our second, third and fourth generation families, this festival represents pride in our values and belief systems."

 The festival is also a platform for youth to display their talents, develop self confidence and be awarded with SAFA scholarships for academic excellence and community involvement, an initiave that SAFA has undertaken since the first festival, eight years ago.

The event doesn't just showcase the talents or set to inspire the South Asian community. It looks to incorporate other cultures as part of what Brar described as a celebration of Vancouver's diversity.

“[Sawan Mela] is a cultural extravaganza and a display of cultural harmony. We as South Asians invite everyone to be exposed to our culture, art, dance forms and values. At the same time, we extend an invitation to others to share their practices and beliefs with us. You'll find First Nations, Taiko drummers, Polynesian dance, salsa and hip-hop also taking the stage.”

With an impressive lineup featuring Juno award winner Kiran Ahluwalia and So You Think You Can Dance performer Arassey Reyes, guest apperances by local dignitaries such as Mayor Gregory Robertson, Dr Hedy Fry and Sue Hammel, not to mention great food and Bhangra (dance) lessons, the festival is sure to wow the crowds this weekend.

Saturday Lineup:

Eagle Song Dancer: Squamish First Nation
Brides of India Fashion Show by Raaj Collections
Giddha by Bhangra Beats Academy
Singer Sukhraj
Singer Shalini
Merlyn Prakash
Cuban Salsa by Arassay Reyes from So You Think You Can Dance!
Jayda Mangat
Zahra Habib
Turban Tying Demonstration by Radio Shere Punjab
PCAC Kuriyan
Ananya Dance Company: Bharat Natyam
RJ1200's Bolly Olympics
Bollywood Shenanigens
Spirit of the South Seas Polynesian Dance

Sunday Lineup:

Tetsu Taiko
Christopher James Magician
Van Cuban Salsa
Sulochana Dance Academy
Bluesette Sax & Keys
Sudnya Dance Academy
Surrey Folk Bhangra Club
Natalie Edwards
Duniya Dance Academy
Centro Flamenco
Korean Arts Drummer
Don Strom Guitarist
Surrey India Arts Club
Karima Essa Academy
Kiran Ahluwal

See video

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