Vietnam celebrates Indian Festival of Lights

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Peenaz Masani (L) and Shreeram Chandra will rock Hanoi and HCMC this week as Indian expat community celebrates Deepavali, the Festival of Lights

Given India's incredible cultural diversity (22 official languages and nearly 2000 "mother tongues," and the fact that it is home to all major religions) it is not surprising that the country has more than a fair share of festivals.

However, the one festival that is celebrated in every corner of the vast country is Divali popularly known as the Festival of Lights. The stories associated with the festival vary from region to region, state to state and religion to religion.

For the Buddhists, for instance, it is the day King Ashoka accepted Buddhism and the propagation of a new way of life eschewing violence and taking the Middle Path began.

For the Jains, it is the day Mahavir attained Nirvana.

For the Sikhs it is the day Guru Hargobind returned to Amritsar (capital of Punjab state) after his imprisonment at Gwalior.

For the Hindus, it marks the return of Lord Rama after 14 years in exile, it marks the slaying of demon Narakasura by Lord Krishna and Satyabhama (Krishna and Rama are both avatars of Vishnu), it marks the day a demi-God, Indra, is shown his place by Krishna who lifts up a mountain with this little finger to shelter people from torrential downpours.

It also marks the day when Lakshmi, Goddess of Wealth, is invited into homes and businesses close accounts and open a new year. It is a day when everyone wears new clothes, lights firecrackers and generally has a whale of a time.

A whale of a time is what the Indian community and their Vietnamese and other expatriate friends plan to do this weekend in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City as they celebrate Divali with an evening of music, dance and truckloads of fun.

In Hanoi, the highlight of the festival is a concert by Peenaz Masani, known as the queen of ghazals, with an uplifting, unique voice and singing style that never fails to enthrall music lovers. It is said that the several years ago, the president and vice president of Ghana, planning to put in a token presence at a concert, were so taken by her singing of Raag Darbari (classical Indian composition) that they sat through the whole show.

Having held her own in a male-dominated field genre for the last 30 years, Masani has numerous state and national awards as well as a platinum and three gold discs to her credit. Masani is accompanied by a troupe of dancers sure to set a high tempo for the evening as they gyrate to wildly popular Bollywood music.

Meanwhile, in Ho Chi Minh City, a new star on the Indian music firmament, Shreeram Chandra, winner of the fifth edition of the Indian Idol contest in 2010, will regale the audience with his mellifluous voice and wide range that allows him to be one of the most versatile singers around. Almost throughout his Indian Idol journey the judges found it difficult to find flaws in his performances and more often than not, superlatives were freely used in describing them.

His rendition of two songs in particular marked him as a special talent, one that towered above other contestants Khwaja Mere Kwaja, a famous qawwali composed and sung originally by Oscar winner (Slum Dog Millionnaire) A.R. Rehman; and a song from an album called "Breathless." The first one reduced a guest film star to tears and has attracted more views than the original on YouTube; and the other left the judges, audiences and fellow contestants, well, breathless.

In Hanoi, the Deepavali celebrations will take place at the Van Ho Exhibition Center, 2 Van Ho Street, Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi. In HCMC, the event will take place at the Sheraton Hotel, 80 Dong Du Street, District 1.

Apart from the main music and dance performances, the event will feature fashion shows, games, lucky draws, handicrafts and Indian cuisine.

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