Dancers and puppeteers to share Indian cultural traditions with New Zealand schoolchildren

Indian performers entertaining New Zealand crowds at Diwali festivals will also take to the road and visit schools in Rotorua, Paraparaumu, Levin and Wellington.

Rajasthani puppeteers, led by puppet master Vinod Bhatt, and a classical kathak dance group led by Assamese film actress and dancer Meghranjani Medhi are being hosted in New Zealand by the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

Fresh from Auckland Diwali Festival of Lights, the performers will visit:

  • Rotorua Primary School and Kaharoa School on Tuesday 18 October
  • Paraparaumu College and Horowhenua College on Thursday 20 October.
  • South Wellington Intermediate School on Friday 21 October

They will then perform at Wellington’s Diwali Festival of Lights on Sunday 23 October.

Asia New Zealand Foundation director of culture Jennifer King says the school visits are a long-running component of the Foundation's Diwali programme. “It’s a fantastic and entertaining way for children at these schools to learn more about India.

“This is especially important as New Zealand’s ties to India increase. A growing number of New Zealanders are of Indian heritage – not only in the main centres but in cities and towns right around New Zealand.”

Ms King says the Asia New Zealand Foundation is very grateful for the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and Singapore Airlines, which have enabled the artists to travel to New Zealand from India.

More about the performers:

  • Kathak dancer Meghranjani Medhi, known as the “Dancing Queen of Assam”, performs the demanding art of kathak all over India with her mother, renowned dancer and choreographer Marami Medhi.  Kathak is one of India’s 10 major classical dance forms. Dancers traditionally wear heavy bells strapped around their ankles. As they make rapid foot movements, the bells harmonise with the music. The two dancers are accompanied by a vocalist, violinist, percussionist and tabla (a pair of small drums) player.  Meghranjani has also made a name for herself in the film industry in her native state of Assam, in northeast India.
  • The Jaipur-based Rajasthani puppeteers, led by puppet master Vinod Bhatt, perform a   colourful, lively and laugh-out-loud funny traditional art form that dates back more than 1000 years. Their painted puppets are hand-carved from mango wood and they wear bright costumes fashioned from scraps of cloth. Traditionally, puppeteers from the nomadic Bhatt community went from village to village presenting popular stories from the sacred epic poems the Ramayana and the Mahabharata – but today the puppets are often used as educational tools.

Diwali is an ancient Hindu festival celebrating the triumph of light over darkness and the renewal of life. Families celebrate with gatherings, clay lamps, fireworks, sharing of sweets, and worship to Lakshmi - the goddess of love, wealth and prosperity. Diwali is now also celebrated by other faiths in India and in overseas Indian communities - including here in New Zealand.

The Asia New Zealand Foundation has been involved in public Diwali festivals in Wellington and Auckland since 2002, as part of its mission to increase New Zealanders' understanding of Asia.

The actual date of Diwali depends on the cycle of the moon. In India, it falls on 30 October this year.

Wellington’s Diwali Festival of Lights takes place from 1.30pm to 10pm on Sunday 23 October at TSB Arena, Queens Wharf.  The event also features demonstrations by paper cutter Parth Kathekar, from Ahmedabad in the state of Gujarat, and by artist Venkat Shyam, from Madhya Pradesh in central India, who is internationally renowned for his contemporary style of tribal Gond art. Both artists will be undertaking a range of community demonstrations this week.

For more information:

Rebecca Palmer
Asia New Zealand Foundation media adviser
04 470 8701