Festival of India Celebrates the History, People and Culture of India

By Angela Lindsay

What started as a small one-day affair at Spirit Square in 1995 has blossomed into a sprawling weekend of vibrant sights, sounds and events. It’s Festival of India — and it’s spectacular. 

At its current scale, Festival of India hosts more than one thousand participants — artists and volunteers who all play vital roles in the event’s continued success. Last year, the festival drew more than 20,000 visitors Uptown.

“It’s a family-friendly event that has captivated and educated thousands from the greater Charlotte area, by offering a glimpse into the rich diversity of India’s culture,” said Niketa Mittal, chair of Festival of India and a New Delhi, India native who has been involved with the festival for over 10 years.

Festival of India is organized by the India Association of Charlotte, a nonprofit cultural organization established to serve the large Indian community in the Charlotte region. Its core mission is to highlight and share the rich cultural diversity of the land of their birth with their friends and neighbors around the Carolinas..

Festival of India has become one of the key cultural events in Charlotte and is considered the Indian community’s major contribution to the city, Mittal said. In recognition of that, Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles (as past Charlotte mayors have done) will proclaim the opening day, September 14, as India Day of Charlotte, she added.

Attendees can immerse themselves in Indian culture by indulging in Indian cuisine such as samosa chaat, chicken tika masala and dosa, receiving intricately designed Henna tattoos, dancing to Bollywood music, exploring yoga, watching classical dance performances, admiring fashion displays, and shopping at the bazaar with vendors offering traditional Indian clothing,  jewelry, crafts and other items.

Additional festival highlights include: an Indian art gallery displaying paintings, pottery and handicrafts by local Indian American artists, as well as lessons in traditional Indian painting styles for kids and an art competition for young people.

Exhibits showcase cultural festivals celebrated by Indians, ancient India’s contribution to science and technology, and project submissions by Charlotte-area students based on themes that touch on the ethos of the Indian American experience. Many new exhibits this year focus on Indian history and information on various regions in India.

The festival also includes opportunities to try on traditional Indian attire for women called sari and also the turban, which is the male headgear worn in some areas of India. 

Scheduled dance performances take place at Belk Theater and include a medley of classical, modern fusion and Bollywood beats performed by local choreographers and dancers in colorful costumes associated with different Indian dance forms.

The importance and ever-expanding reach of this event is evident in the fact that in 2022, after two turbulent years of Covid with many attempts to restart the festival, organizers were were approached by the Town of Matthews and asked to participate in their cultural diversity initiatives. The result was an agreement to collaborate with Matthews to present a Regional Festival of India, a one-day event in downtown Matthews with a focus on live performances of Indian dance forms in Stumptown Park.

In addition, this year, as part of its growing partnership with the Charlotte International Arts Festival, Festival of India will host its Saturday event on September 14 at Belk Theater and on Tryon Street from noon to 8 p.m., and the Sunday, September 15 event will be held at Ballantyne’s Backyard from noon to 6 p.m.

“The organization would love to empower local communities by actively involving them in the planning, organization, and execution of events,” Mittal said. “This could create opportunities for grassroots initiatives, skill-building workshops and economic empowerment through cultural entrepreneurship.”