Dr. Pritam Rohila and Bahdur Singh light a candle to open ceremonies on Wednesday. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

A red and gold dragon made its way down Liberty Street. No reason for alarm. It was just Zach Swanson and a team of local children with the World Beat dragon celebrating the kick-off of the Salem Multicultural Institute’s World Beat Festival.

The Institute opened its India: Beyond Bollywood exhibition at the World Beat Gallery on Wednesday, June 5. The exhibit highlighted the diversity of cultures in India, the second most populous country in the world.

The India exhibit was curated by Navneet Kaur, Dipali Patel and Dr. Pritam and Kundan Rohila. The Gallery Committee is chaired by Kathy Andreas and Gretchen Coppedge.

Upon entering the gallery, the eye-popping array of colors captures your attention. Dr. John Choppola explained that each state in India has its own culture, language and dialect. He is working on reestablishing Salem’s Sister City relationship with the Indian city of Salem in the state of Tamilmadu. He and former Mayor Anna Peterson traveled there in 2014 to meet their Sister City leaders. Now, 10 students will be coming from India to Salem later this month.

Dr. Suresht Bald, former Willamette University professor of international studies, explained the beautiful “sarees” or “sari” for women and the “achkan” formal wear for men. Saris are one of the oldest garments on the planet and are made of long pieces of fabric (up to nine yards long and four feet wide). There are more than 100 ways to wear a sari.  

Other gallery highlights include musical instruments like the harmonium; stunning Kundan craftwork, which is a traditional form of Indian gemstone jewelry; and maps. The grand opening featured Indian dishes such as sweet rice, samosas and dhokla prepared by Patel and Kaur.

The event was formally started with the lighting of the candle by Dr. Pritam Rohila and Bahdur Singh. This represents the light and “good fortune.”

Music was provided by Gagandeep Singh on mandolin, accompanied by Saikiran Madhusudhan on the tabla. Singh has been invited to play both at the Obama White House and the Pentagon.

Alexandra Dass delighted guests with a classical Indian dance called the bharatanatyam. Leg bells or ghungroos jingled and each movement of her head, eyes and hands had a meaning. Dass works at Salem Health as the diversity and inclusion program administrator and came to Salem from Bangalore, India, to pursue her MBA at Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University.

Executive Director Kathleen Fish is especially excited that the gallery exhibit coincides with the featured country at the upcoming World Beat Festival. Her favorite display is the one that looks at East Indians in Oregon.

The East Indian population started settling in Oregon in the early 20th century.  Many of the men worked for lumber companies. In 1913, the Ghadar Party was founded in Astoria. This Indian revolutionary organization wanted to gain independence from Britain in India.

Of course, much of the Institute’s work will culminate in the World Beat Festival. Celebrating its 22nd year, the event will be on Friday, June 28, through Sunday, June 30. If you’ve never been to the festival, you are in for a cultural smorgasbord of food, music, crafts, dance and interaction with the traditions of over 70 nations.

When the World Beat Dragon is not out on the town, he will await you at the festival, giving out fortune cookies at the children’s parade.

If you go:

Festival June 28-June 30

Friday: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. only at the Salem Riverfront Park amphitheater (donations accepted)

Saturday: 10 a.m. - 11 p.m. (Kick off with the children’s parade at 10 a.m.)

Sunday: 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Admission Saturday & Sunday:  $5 person; children 14 and under free; Oregon Trail Card free

The gallery has three exhibits per year and is open year-round Monday-Friday and gives the Salem cultural community a welcoming space to share its heritage. It located at 390 Liberty ST. S.E. in the Pringle Park Plaza. (503-581-2004 or https://www.salemmulticultural.org/ )

Gagandeep Singh performs on the mandolin accompanied by Saikiran Madhusudhan on the tabla at the opening ceremony of a new exhibit at the Salem Multicultural Institute's World Beat Gallery. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Chesta Bauer views a display at the World Beat Gallery. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Bracelets on display at the World Beat Gallery. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Dipali Patel and Navneet Kaur display at the World Beat Gallery. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

A child views a display at the World Beat Gallery. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Alexandra Dass performs a traditional dance. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Guests at Wednesday's opening at the World Beat Gallery look over a display telling about India. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Gagandeep Singh performs on the mandolin at the opening ceremony of a new exhibit at the Salem Multicultural Institute's World Beat Gallery. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Expect to see the World Beat Dragon around Salem in the coming days - and don't miss the fortune cookies. (Mary Louise VanNatta/Special to Salem Reporter)

Mary Louise VanNatta is a Salem public relations professional writing a regular column for Salem Reporter. Tell her about your upcoming event at mlvg@prsalem.com. Follow: https://www.facebook.com/Out-and-About-with-Mary-Louise-VanNatta-646148848755085/

JOIN Salem Reporter: FACEBOOK and TWITTER.

SUBSCRIBE AND DRIVE LOCAL REPORTING -- For $10 a month, you get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.