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Festival of India takes center stage at Canalside

Buffalo has the Greek Festival, the Italian Festival, a German Fest and every year when St. Patrick's Day and Dyngus Day roll around it's one big party with parades.

Why not honor India's culture, too?

In fact, it was celebrated Saturday with the Festival of India at Canalside.

"We not only share the culture with people who are new to it, but this helps us keep our culture alive for the many Indian children and young adults who were born here and have not had the chance to experience their culture in our homeland," said Sibu Nair, festival founder and president of the India Association of Buffalo.

The area's Indian population has quietly blossomed over the decades.

It first took root in the late 1950s, Nair said, with immigrants arriving from India for educational and career opportunities. It's a close-knit, hard-working community, he said, with many arriving on working or student visas, unsure how long they will be staying.

But these days, more than 8,400 people of Indian descent live in the Buffalo Niagara region, according to the most recent census estimates available.

Children dance during the Festival of India. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Among them are surgeons and computer specialists and innovators of technology, who have a rich tradition of charitable giving both in Buffalo and back home in India, Nair said.

Nair came to the Buffalo area more than a decade ago when his wife took a position at the University at Buffalo. He now supervises clinical trials at UB.

"We are doctors, engineers, researchers, bankers, entrepreneurs and more," Nair said.

"Over the years, more and more made Buffalo their home but were lacking a way to share the many experiences our culture offers to this community and help our children share their heritage, too," he said.

So began the Festival of India.

The India Association of Buffalo, founded in 1981, started the festival just last year in honor of the nation's independence from the United Kingdom, a national holiday celebrated in India each Aug. 15.

Unfortunately, Nair said, the first festival was a wash out.

But the Festival of India returned bigger and better this year at Canalside, aiming for broader public exposure in hopes it, too, can grow into one of Buffalo's signature heritage events.

The day-long event included musical performances on the Canalside stage, which was decorated in orange, white and green – colors of India's national flag. There was Bollywood dancing and a yoga demonstration. Indian jewelry, art, cuisine and henna tattoos were available.

"It's not just for the Indian community, but to show the city the diversity it has," said Kali Chithambaram, a systems manager for M&T Bank.

Mark Popiel was among those who stopped by the festival Saturday.

The public is familiar with Indian food, he said, "but there's so much more to the Indian community."

Popiel, in fact, is an immigration attorney who has long helped members of the Indian community gain permanent U.S. residency or citizenship to remain in Buffalo, a process that can take years.

"Buffalo is a very welcoming and open city," he said, "but it's a long journey."

Abhishek Kumar just started his.

The 25-year-old came to Buffalo for his graduate studies in chemical engineering at UB and volunteered at Saturday's event to get a taste of his new city.

"It's nice,"Kumar said. "I haven't explored the city that much. It's only been four days."


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