A group poses for a photo at the second annual UTSAV Mela. It’s a festival that celebrates South Asian cultures and aims to share traditional dances, food and fashion with area locals. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

A group poses for a photo at the second annual UTSAV Mela. It’s a festival that celebrates South Asian cultures and aims to share traditional dances, food and fashion with area locals. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

A message of unity at South Asian festival near Snohomish

The second annual event gave local South Asian communities a platform to showcase their cultures.

SNOHOMISH — The sweet smell of cinnamon mixed with the smoky aroma of turmeric at Willis Tucker Park on Saturday morning as women in brilliant gold sashes and bell-adorned anklets jingled by.

These are familiar sights and smells for Jamyang Dorjee, a refugee from Tibet who grew up in India.

“This feels very much like home in exile,” he said. “There are so many familiar sounds, familiar tastes of food.”

Dorjee and hundreds of others gathered at the park for the second annual UTSAV Mela. It’s a festival that celebrates South Asian cultures and aims to share traditional dances, food and fashion with area locals.

Utsav is derived from the Sanskrit word meaning “celebration of happiness,” while mela means “cultural fair.”

Throughout the day, groups representing different South Asian countries performed dances and songs as families stood catching up and kids rolled down the grassy amphitheatre slopes. Above the stage, the United States flag hung alongside that of India, Bangladesh, Ski Lanka, Pakistan and others.

A dancer representing Bangladesh performs at the second annual UTSAV Mela. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

A dancer representing Bangladesh performs at the second annual UTSAV Mela. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

Arun Sharma and his wife Seema Sharma started the festival two years ago with hopes of connecting South Asians with the broader community.

The couple, originally from India, have lived in the Everett area since 1992 and raised two children here.

Arun Sharma said his family has always been very active in the local Indian community and worked to support causes back home.

After the Sharma’s kids had both graduated college, they sat their parents down.

“They said ‘You should also be active with the community in which you’re living with here,’” Arun Sharma said.

That’s when he and his wife started UTSAV, an organization dedicated to building bridges between mainstream and South Asian communities. They host events throughout the year, including the annual festival.

Festival goers watching dance students perform at the second annual UTSAV Mela. It’s a festival that celebrates South Asian cultures and aims to share traditional dances, food and fashion with area locals. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

Festival goers watching dance students perform at the second annual UTSAV Mela. It’s a festival that celebrates South Asian cultures and aims to share traditional dances, food and fashion with area locals. (Julia-Grace Sanders / The Herald)

“We’re trying to bring out our community and say ‘Let people see you, let people know who you are,’” Seema Sharma said. “That’s how acceptance happens.”

The organization encompasses people from the top of the Himalayan mountains to the desert, Arun Sharma said.

“The enthusiasm has grown because we are not representing one country, religion or language,” he said. “We are representing all the people from South Asia and I would say hundreds and hundreds of languages.”

At around 2 p.m., a group of dance students took the stage. Many of them prepared for months, said Nidhi Mehta, who helped organize the festival.

Four-year-old Aria Poonter said she practiced “50 times.”

For Mehta, the festival is a chance to pass cultural knowledge down to her kids. The event gives South Asians a platform to share their traditions with neighbors, she said

“I’m proud to be Indian, and I’m proud to be American,” she said. “The message is clear — it’s unity.”

Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; jgsanders@heraldnet.com.

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