'Incredible India' – says the welcoming archway, best describes the essence of 'Namaste India' the 2-day long annual Indian festival held over a weekend in September right in the heart of Tokyo, at the Yoyogi Park Event Square. We have been there every year of our stay here in Japan and each time the things that are bound to mark this festival are a big bright idol of the 'Remover of all obstacles' and the 'Lord of all new and great beginnings', the friendliest and the cutest of all-Lord Ganesha, the welcome arch and of course the festive madness and fun of exploring a mini-India amidst the Hindi and Japanese all mixed up. The popularity of this festival is evident in the crowd that turns up every year to enjoy this fest. Last year there were around 170,000 people and it is heartening to see the huge numbers of Japanese and non-Indians enjoying this festival with equal fervor.
One thing that mesmerizes me most about my country is the vastness and wide spread of culture and traditions. It's like a whole continent in itself with each state having its own language, cuisine, attire, dance forms and folklore, festivities, art and handicrafts, in whole a distinct culture in itself. But don't worry if you can't travel anytime soon to experience the depths and breadths of this country, you can just hop on the JR Yamanote Line, alight at the bustling Harajuku station and walk for a mere 3-5 min to enter India and bask in her myriad colors right at one place, here at the Namaste India festival.
This festival is a big bonanza of fun. Learn to drape yourself in beautiful designer Sarees, decorate your palms with gorgeous Mehendi art or buy yourself colorful bangles, danglers, bindis and heavy Indian jewelry, there are just so many things to do that one is sure to fall short of time. Somewhere you find huge sand-arts and elsewhere there are artisans weaving magic with handicrafts. There are stalls selling Ayurvedic medicines, Indian music and movie CDs,Yoga DVDs, clothing, sarees and jewelry, typical Indian spices, and a big part of the venue is lined up with dozens of food stalls. This place becomes the perfect amalgamation of a big Indian Bazaar and a grand Food Mela.
One can spend a whole day sampling the various tastes of India from the kebabs of the North to the Dosas of the south, the sweets of the East to the savory snacks of the West, you name it and you have it here, not to forget the masala chais and the tumblers of lassis. I would suggest, don't go for the regular naan and curry (though you would find that at an incredible price of around ¥500 too) but rather try out the many varieties of snacks, sweets and side dishes like kebabs, chaats, pani-puri, samosas, bread pakoras, kathi rolls, rasgullas, jalebis. These are stuff hard to find at any regular Indian restaurant here in Tokyo. Moreover you would find almost all the major Indian restaurant chains with their stalls lined up at this festival and for those fond of or eager to try their hands at cooking Indian food, head out for the Indian grocery stores like Ambika and Indo bazaar and buy yourself a variety of Indian spices or take home the ready to make packs and become a pro at making Indian curries, gulab-jamuns, kulfis, jalebis, dhoklas and dosas. In between all the shopping and eating, one can sit back, relax and enjoy the back to back stage shows of Indian classical dances like Odissi, Bharatnatyam and Kathak performed mostly by Japanese artists.
In spite of the heavy crowd and the weekend, the huge space helps keep the event easy to navigate and enjoy. Restroom facilities are made available at the venue. Though there is ample seating arrangements made near the food stalls, it always falls short, but sitting or standing people are seen enjoying the food nonetheless. It's advisable to carry a mat along with you, then you can just grab your lunch from one of the many counters, find a shady spot below the trees, roll out your mat and have a picnic party right away.
India and Japan are celebrating more than 60 years of diplomatic relations by now and I've marked my calendar for the next Namaste India Festival. Are you coming, too?