Sisters Eesha Butni, 14, left, and Radha Prajapati, 11, dancers with Rhythm Dance Academy, practice in the parking lot before performing at India Fest on Saturday at Nassau County Community College in Garden City. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin
The grounds of Nassau Community College became a colorful scene in celebration of India’s cultures on Saturday.
The annual India Fest — returning for the first time since 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic — was organized by the college, the India Association of Long Island and the Nassau County Office of Asian American Affairs. As many as 1,000 people were expected to attend the all-day festival, said IALI president Bina Sabapathy. The inaugural festival in 1990 drew 10,000 attendees, she said. 
"[The event] is important, because when you say ‘India,’ you don’t get the full picture of what India is as a country: [it has] different languages, different religions, but still, it is one India,” Sabapathy said. “So we want to bring all the states together.”
India, the second most populous country in the world, has 28 states and each state has a distinct culture, food and language.
Vendors sold Indian clothing, jewelry and fabrics. Punjabi channa, a chickpea dish, was served for free to give visitors a taste of one of the country’s cuisines. 
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Aarthi Palaniappar, 14, performs a traditional Indian dance Saturday at India Fest at Nassau County Community College in Garden City. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin
The most prominent events to take the stage at the festival were dances performed by Rhythm Dance Academy members. Students performed dozens of dances, including Punjabi, Gurba and Bollywood styles, and wore eye-catching attire.
The dance classes, led by Shilpa Mithaiwala and based in Hicksville, have offered a lifeline to Indian culture for their daughters being raised on Long Island, said parents of the performers.
Richa Sharma, 44, of Hicksville, said enrolling her 14-year-old daughter in the classes had encouraged her to embrace Indian traditions. Sharma, who moved to New York nearly two decades ago, said dancing and music was a passion of hers while growing up in New Delhi. Dance is a hallmark of Indian celebrations, she said. 
“I feel so proud,” Sharma said. “It’s so nice they’re getting close to their Indian culture.”
Her daughter didn’t initially want to wear Indian dresses, but since taking the stage for her dances, she’s diving into Indian fashion, she said. She also now listens to Indian music.
Suchita Sharma, 45, of Jericho, agreed. The dances — which the students perform across Long Island and New York City — provide a way for her to "bring my culture close to my daughter," she said. 
Amita Butani, 44, of Syosset, said the festival provided a chance for those unfamiliar with India to experience the food, sounds and traditions the country offers. Its goal is “to teach everyone how colorful and how welcoming our culture is.”
Brinley Hineman covers the Town of Islip for Newsday. She previously was a reporter in Nashville, Tennessee, and is a native of West Virginia.
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