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Reston Multicultural Festival: a heart-warming celebration of diversity and community spirit

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Naturalization ceremony, Indian classical dances among highlights of 2017 festival.

RESTON (Virginia):  The seventeenth edition of the Reston Multicultural Festival drew thousands of people to the scenic Lake Anne Plaza on a picture-perfect first full day of Fall.

The eagerly-awaited event is a true celebration of diversity and community spirit, and sets a great example for all localities in the US. Over 6,000 people of various ethnicities gather to celebrate the rich medley of world cultures and traditions. The theme, Discover the World in Reston, is apt for the signature event presented by the Reston Community Center (RCC).

Among the highlights of the 2017 festival were an awe-inspiring Naturalization Ceremony, International Book Fair, National Heritage Award Fellows, arts and crafts, Art Mirrors Culture 2D and 3D exhibits, voter registration drive, music, dance, cultural treasures from all over the world, and cuisine.

“This festival is something that I look forward to every year and if ever there was a time for us to celebrate our diversity, it is now,” Sharon Bulova, chairwoman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, told us. “This is a county where people come from all over the globe to put down their roots, raise their families, start businesses, and enrich our culture. That is part of what makes us the special place that Fairfax County is — to live, work and play — especially Reston,” she said.

“Reston was founded on the value of inclusion and the value of accepting people of different faiths and backgrounds. There was a time when Reston was unique, where this was unusual. I think Reston’s culture has spread so this is really the culture of all of Fairfax County,” Bulova said.

About the 2017 opening program on Saturday, she told us, “I really enjoyed the Naturalization ceremony. It was fun looking at people from so many different countries coming here and becoming citizens, and seeing how excited they are, and how excited the audience was”.

On the added significance of the ceremony given the anti-immigrant sentiment and divisive rhetoric emanating from Washington, Bulova said, “Considering how difficult life is being made for some people, this is what it should be. This is what America is all about”.

Some two dozen people, including four of Indian origin, were sworn in as citizens on a summer-like day. The venue was both beautiful and symbolic – World Stage of a multicultural festival set against the scenic backdrop of Lake Anne in Reston, a census-designated place that has for long celebrated and valued diversity.

Sarah Taylor, Washington District Director at United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), delivered welcome remarks and administered the Oath of Allegiance. Taking the oath completes the process of becoming a US citizen which for many is a long-awaited milestone.

Among the new citizens was Shubhra Sharma of Ashburn. “I’m very excited. I have been living in this country for so long and finally I got my citizenship today,” she told us. Shubhra and her husband, Neeraj, hail from Uttar Pradesh, one of the largest states in India. They have two daughters, ages 6 and 10, both born in America. “We came to the US in 2005 and I applied for naturalization in 2006″, Shubhra said.

Her husband, who was sponsored by his employer, took the Oath of Allegiance earlier this year, in January. “After working for 13-14 years, we realized that this country provides us something unique and that is freedom,” Neeraj said. “This is the most beautiful quality that we can inherit here: freedom for ourselves, freedom for our kids.” He added, “It’s been a beautiful journey”.

Pramod Dulam, an IT professional based in Herndon was “very happy” to become a US citizen. “We work very hard,” he said. “It’s something we achieve for our hard work.” Dulam who hails from Hyderabad applied for naturalization in 2004. He was undeterred by the length of the process to become a US citizen, clearly elated by the outcome as he took the Oath of Allegiance.

The ceremony ended with the release of white doves, a breathtaking sight in the blue sky, signifying love, peace and prosperity.

Regarding the cultural performances, Indian classical dances were a great attraction at the multicultural festival. Supremely gifted students of the Kalavaridhi Center for Performing Arts were a delight to behold on the Global Stage, a platform for showcasing the talent of artistes from all over the world.

Among the expertly choreographed dances in the bharatanatyam style were an ode to the Sun God, and Shiva Tandav. The audience was enthralled by the complex rhythmic footwork complemented by meaningful hand gestures, the ornate costumes and jewelry lending an ethereal effect. The ensuing applause was loud, sustained, well deserved!

“We are so delighted to be a part of the Reston Multicultural Festival,” Sheela Ramanath, director of Kalavaridhi, said. “This year marks Kalavaridhi’s tenth anniversary of being a part of this prestigious festival that binds us all together with love and art”.

Founded in 2001 by Ramanath, the mission of Kalavaridhi is to “spread the message of peace and unity through dance.” Kalavaridhi is a Sanskrit word which means ocean of art, signifying that art is like the ocean – boundless, mysterious and intriguing.

Students of the Maryland-based Jayamangala School of Music and Dance, headed by Shobha Subramanian, presented dances in the bharatanatyam style on the World Stage, overlooking the picturesque lake. The opening dance was ‘Jathiswaram’, a pure dance presentation, by a trio of girls, ages 9 to 12. It was followed by five teenage girls performing a tribute to Lord Shiva, and the ‘Tillana’ which mimics the sounds of drums.

The cultural program closed with four female artistes of the Bharatha Mallika School of Kuchipudi Dance performing on the indoor Gallery Stage. The first two dances were both a Keerthana beginning with an invocatory dance in praise of Lord Ganesha, and the recital concluded with vibrant pieces honoring Lords Shiva and Gopala.

The school is based on the name of a renowned poet, Bharathamallika, who has written several works on dance. It was founded in 1997 by Mallika Ramprasad in Hyderabad. She moved to the Washington region in 2001 and subsequently opened branches in Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

Among the various interactive, informative stalls at the festival were Chinmaya Mission Washington Regional Center, Amnesty International, Immigration Committee of Herndon-Reston, elephant necklace (India), international friendship bracelets, and origami (paper folding).

The festival featured a number of Global Market vendors including: Kayvee International — Indian shawls, totes and women’s attire; Craft Indulgence — hand-crafted, fair trade clothes and accessories made by the artisans of India; and Arts of Asia — fine trade crafts from India, Myanmar, Thailand, Afghanistan, Turkey and Iran.