Dance the Dandiya, pump to ‘Pardesia’Compared to most expatriate gatherings, this one was rather small: about 80 people at a minimally decorated hotel ballroom. Other expat parties, however, don’t involve a ceremonial battle between a goddess and a demon king.
Don’t worry if you missed the Dandiya party, held at the Millennium Seoul Hilton hotel in central Seoul last weekend. The event is an annual tradition for Indians around the world, who gather at parties from Oct. 1 to 9 to hold a Navrati Festival, celebrate the indian goddess Durga, and perform the Dandiya dance. This stick dance, said to be “as old as Lord Krishna,” is from the Gujarat region of India and involves the dancers, both men and women of all ages, using sticks to depict the battle between Durga and Mahishasura, king of demons.
The Dandiya party, one of the most prominent Indian gatherings in Korea, is organized by the Indian Merchant Association, which is now in its 20th year. The association comprises 50 representatives of Indian companies in Korea; most of the firms specialize in textiles or general trade. Besides for the Dandiya, the group also holds events for other Indian celebrations, such as Diwali (the Festival of Lights) and Holi (the spring festival), as well as charity events.
“The association is still in the process of expansion,” said Syed Agha, the president of the India Merchant Association. “[It] starting out from 20 companies that joined to over 50 companies at present. It has spread its influence as a gathering of community people [Indians in Korea].”
Mr. Agha is the director for Grand Prism Ltd., a trading firm that exports textiles, garments, electronics and hotel supplies. He has been coordinating the events throughout his three years as president.
The event at the Hilton hotel consisted of many things Indian ― including starting on “Indian Time,” as it was jovially dubbed. Although the setting of the ballroom was ready for the scheduled 7:30 p.m. start, the members and their families turned up about an hour later.
Past 8:30, women and children arrive dressed in colorful saris, from the voluminous authentic type featuring intricate beadings and miles of drop-dyed chiffon to the more casual sari tops in trendy colors ― turquoise and magenta ― paired with jeans.
The men’s fashion, on the other hand, was more diverse, with outfits from plaid shirts and khakis to an earthy-colored traditional garb: a long tunic, called kurta, worn with chodidar (pants) and duptta (men’s scarves) that match the overall costume.
The latest entry to Korea’s Indian community was the new ambassador of India to Korea, N. Parthasarathi and his wife. The couple arrived last week from India.
Currently there are about 4,000 to 5,000 Indians living in Korea, according to Mr. Agha, but the number has been growing, with a noticeable number of post-doctorate degree holders flying here to work in Korea’s powerful IT industry.
Most Indians speak Hindi and English, but many are fluent in Korean as well. Among them is R.K. Bhesaniya, a trader of textiles who recently acquired Korean citizenship. (He wouldn’t be the first to do so: according to legend, King Suro of the 1st century Korean kingdom of Gaya married an Indian princess, who would have been the first Indian to become a Korean “citizen.”)
“Although our home towns are scattered all over India, [Indians in Korea] never had any trouble getting along. We were always like family,” said Mr. Bhesaniya, who speaks fluent Korean and has been here for 15 years.
After a buffet dinner featuring assorted curry dishes, basmati rice and Indian desserts such as sago (coconut juice and tapioca), came the highlight of the festival: the Dandiya dance competition.
At the small DJ box stood Kumar Bhagutandani, the volunteer DJ for this event, who mixed a variety of Dandiya songs with contemporary pop and techno. When “Pardesia” by the popular singer Kumar Kishore came on, dancers on the floor lip-synched all together. By midnight they had a winner: The grand prize, a one-night stay at the Hilton, went to Pankaj Agarwal and his wife Pooja. Mr. Agarwal, a native of Kishanganj, is enrolled in electronic engineering department of Seoul National University’s master’s program.
by Cho Jae-eun, Kim Kyoung-mo