Over the last two decades, people from India have been moving to the Palos Verdes Peninsula. It has been a quiet, gradual influx, with current estimates putting the population there at about 200 families.
Now this small community, with roots in a vast nation of 850 million on the other side of the world, is about to make a big splash in the South Bay.
“The Eye of India: Art of the People,” a celebration of India’s heritage, gets under way tonight at 7 p.m. with a reception and the opening of an Indian folk art exhibit at the Palos Verdes Art Center’s Beckstrand Gallery.
For the next six weeks, the festival will explore Indian culture as reflected in art, storytelling, crafts, music and dance, the spicy creations of Indian cooking, and the thriving motion picture industry that has made Bombay “the Hollywood of India.”
Most of the events will take place at the art center, 5504 W. Crestridge Road in Rancho Palos Verdes. There are fees for some programs.
In previous cultural festivals--annual events designed to reflect the peninsula’s growing ethnic population--the art center has focused on African-American, Native American, Japanese and Jewish cultures.
“It’s a reflection of who lives here,” said Deedee Rechtin, the center’s program director. She said the Indian community was chosen this year because “we saw it as one of the large groups of people not yet represented” in a show. “It’s a wonderful, vibrant culture,” Rechtin added.
The festival is being coordinated by Dr. Samar Sircar, president of the India Assn. of Palos Verdes. About 45 members of the Indian community worked on committees for several months to organize and present the events. They also sought out the folk art being displayed from various private collections.
“I’m so excited, so thrilled to show India to the Palos Verdes community,” said Sheila Doshi, who has been active on festival committees. She described her native country as a land of many cultures, religions and languages, where people are highly emotional and value the family.
“We want people to know about India,” she said, adding that children of Indian-born parents will benefit from the show as much as the overall community. “Our children consider themselves American and they will be able to learn their heritage,” she said.
The star of the festival is the folk art exhibit, which continues through March 9. With draped saris of purple, green, orange, blue and rose serving as a canopy over the gallery, the show displays vividly colored ritual objects, clothing, toys, dolls, masks, sculpture and paintings reflecting the daily life and religion in many parts of India.
One of the most striking pieces is a swing for the baby Hindu god Krishna. Decorated with lions, elephants and peacocks, the wooden creation contains many small glass compartments--each with a baby Krishna on a miniature swing. There also is a reddish cabinet used by itinerant storytellers. Parts of the cabinet open and pull out, displaying illustrations from the story being told.
Vincent Beggs, executive director of the center, said that even though the art is from a different culture, everyone can respond to it. “It comes from common emotions, which we all can share. It doesn’t have to be intellectualized,” he said.
Deepak Shimkhada, guest curator at the Pacific Asian Museum in Pasadena who is curator of the art center show, said the art is an ongoing, living tradition carried on by a variety of craftsmen making objects for everyday use. “It is not detached from life as we usually like to look at art,” he said.
Indian movies are being spotlighted with a display of posters in the art center’s Norris Film Gallery, and with a series of talks and film programs that will culminate with the Indian feature “Kamla,” to be shown March 10. Programs will highlight Indian musicals--among the most popular pictures made--and the work of such directors as Satyajit Ray.
Although Hollywood may be synonymous with the movies, India is the world’s largest producer of films. About 900 movies in a variety of Indian languages were made last year, according to Jag Mundhra, a director, writer and producer. He will speak on Indian films at the art center on Feb. 8 at 7:30 p.m.
Indian movies are a “little bit of everything,” said Nandini Chopra, who heads the festival’s film committee. “They have dancing, a love story, a little bit of mystery, a little bit of shooting, everying put into three hours,” she said.
In a highlight of the festival, the art center patio will be turned into a mela, or Indian bazaar, on March 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Indian food from several restaurants will be served and there will be demonstrations of cooking, crafts and music as well as fortunetelling and a fashion show.
Bhupendra Singhal, chairman of the mela committee, said such bazaars are the traditional places to shop in India. “But you don’t just go there to buy,” he said. “People enjoy the crowd, people, colors, cultures, the diversities.”
Three Saturday cooking classes will introduce Indian food to people who, as culinary committee chairman Fatima Lakhani put it, may think Indian food is “synonymous with curry.”
When the classes are over, people will know how to prepare such things as vegetables and fruit marinated in spices, pastry filled with spiced meat or vegetables, and beef cooked with saffron, onions and spices and served on a bed of saffron rice.
“Indians believe cookery is one of the divine arts . . . and this makes the art of cookery a part of the ritual of the people,” she said, adding that the basis of Indian cooking is the skillful blending of many spices.
Classical Indian dancing and music will be performed by artists from India on Feb. 24 at 2 p.m. at the Norris Theatre for the Performing Arts in Rolling Hills Estates. Drawing inspiration from religion and mythology, the dancing requires precise hand movements, facial expressions and demanding footwork. One instrument that will be played is the santoor , a harp-like instrument with 100 strings.
The festival will also offer crafts and library story hours for children. Displays in various South Bay locations also will reflect the clothing, cooking, dancing and everyday life of India. They will be located at The Shops at Palos Verdes, Peninsula Center Library and libraries in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach.
Some of the people who are putting on the festival said they hope visitors will come to appreciate India not only as an exotic land but as home to a people.
“Even with all this war, we are all enthusiastic about this festival,” Chopra said. “It will promote unity and understanding.”
Today, 7 to 9 p.m., opening reception, Palos Verdes Art Center Beckstrand Gallery, 5504 W. Crestridge Road at Crenshaw Boulevard, Rancho Palos Verdes; opening of folk art exhibit, continuing through March 9 at the Beckstrand, Monday-Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m.; opening of movie poster exhibit, continuing through March 16 at the art center Norris Film Gallery, Thurs., 1 to 4 p.m., or by appointment.
Feb. 6, 4 to 4:45 p.m., children’s story hour, Peninsula Center Library, 650 Deep Valley Drive, Rolling Hills Estates.
Feb. 8, 7:30 p.m., lecture on film industry with illustrative films, Norris Film Gallery, $5.
Feb. 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Diwali Festival crafts for children ages 7 to 13, art center Stewart Gallery, $2, bring snacks; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., vegetarian cooking class, art center Norris Kitchen, $15, includes lunch.
Feb. 15, 7:30 p.m., film selections by directors Satyajit Ray, Tappan Sinha and Mrinal Sen, Norris Film Gallery, $5.
Feb. 16, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., friendship crafts for children ages 7 to 13, Stewart Gallery, $2, bring snacks; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., northern India cooking class, Norris Kitchen, $15, includes lunch.
Feb. 22, 7:30 p.m., musical films, Norris Film Gallery, $5.
Feb. 24, 2 to 5 p.m., dance and instrumental music, Norris Theatre for the Performing Arts, Crossfield Drive and Indian Peak Road, Rolling Hills Estates, $10.
Feb. 26, 4 to 4:30 p.m., children’s story hour, Malaga Cove Library, 2400 Via Campesina, Palos Verdes Estates.
March 1, 7:30 p.m., American film portrayals of Indian themes, Norris Film Gallery, $5.
March 3, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., mela (bazaar), art center patio.
March 5, 4 to 4:30 p.m., children’s story hour, Miraleste Library, 29089 Palos Verdes Drive East, Rancho Palos Verdes.
March 9, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., musical crafts for children ages 7 to 13, Stewart Gallery, $2, bring snacks; 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., preparing hors d’oeuvres and desserts, Norris Kitchen, $15, includes lunch.
March 10, 2 p.m., feature film, “Kamla,” Norris Film Gallery, $5.