HD and the Swindon Mela Festival


The Swindon Mela

Sanskritis one of the 22 spoken Indian languages and dates back hundreds of years and is recognized as the classical Indian dialect. Mela is a Sanskrit word used to describe a religious or sports gathering and also a fair or fete. On a warm and sunny English day I took the chance to visit an all day celebration of Asian arts and culture in my hometown at the 7th Swindon Mela. Photograph on the right by kind permission of the Swindon Advertiser.Mela dance

Swindon is like so many of Britain’s cities and towns in that it is home to many nationalities from around the globe with Asia providing a large portion of Swindon’s immigrant workers. Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and also a small but growing number of Thai’s are now a part of this ex railway town and its expanding community.

Many of the younger members from Swindon’s ethnic groups are British born and the Mela is an occasion for them to sample their ancestors roots and witness culture that has been passed down from generation to generation and nowadays rejuvenation in the town’s annual festival which is one of 54 mela’s throughout Britain.

The Mela Festival is their chance to bring a little taste of Asia into the lives of those who can set apart a bhangra from a balti and educate those few who who think Asia is an offshoot of Asda and Bollywood is a thick, plastic coated formica board. With my ever unreliable Vivitar 8010 camera primed and ready I set off for the festival’s venue at the Town Gardens for the 7th Swindon Mela.

Mela delightsI arrived early but already the manicured landscaped Town Gardens had started to fill with a multiracial crowd all with the same expectation of enjoying some fun in the sun amongst a carnival filled atmosphere packed with a programme of cultural delight.

A fashion show, Bollywood dancing, cookery demonstrations and Gujrati folk dancing were just a very small part of the afternoon entertainment centred around three main stages. I had to make my mind up quick exactly where to start and after weighing up which early acts to later follow I plumped for a visit to the fenced area which housed an open air bar, habits die hard even amongst the loud Mela music and gastronomic delights from the numerous food stalls.

I nodded my way past the two burly security men stood at the entrance and made my way to the bar. Visions of Thailand came flooding back at the sight of bottled Tiger beer but soon faded after £3 (170 baht) was relieved from my sweat filled palm. I suddenly became conscious of being the solitary customer in the large caged area with hundreds of people milling around outside. I’m sure I saw a young Asian boy tug at his mother’s clothing, look up and say ‘ Mama, man have same beer papa like ‘ and the scolded reply hit me like a deep burning wound You can look at the alcoholic later, soon the Maher Raas Group will be on the showcase stage…let’s go.’ I gulped back my beer and hurriedly left.

Maher Raas Group

After a brief introduction from Swindon’s Mayor the Mela was officially open and by now couples and families were picnicking on the lawn around the Bandstand Stage basking in the warm July sun. I headed for the Showcase Stage to watch the Maheer Raas Group who had travelled down from Leicester to perform their blend of Indian folk dancing.

Swindon MelaFor those whose taste buds had been well and truly tickled by the festival’s pungent spicy aroma that filled the warm air there was plenty of choice on offer. Onion Bhajee, meat and vegtable samosa, chicken biryani, sheek kebab, the venue had a distinct fragrance of Far East markets and street stalls wafting through the Wiltshire air.

The garden’s lawns were brimming with happy eaters overindulging in some of South East Asia’s finest succulent snacks, with ever present queue’s at the Punjabi, Gujarati, Halal and many other variety of stalls. In the Activities Zone there was cookery demonstrations which included a samosa and roti class. There was something for everyone, leaving no excuse to depart the mela complaining of being famished and unfilled.

The Mela Festival did lack any real Thai presence aside from Thai massage offered in the Health Zone but the sundry of market and food stalls reminded me of the many fairs I have visited in Thailand. The event was well represented by its Indian roots with amongst the many acts the Jaipur Kawa Circus performing dance, puppetry and circus skills, Melody Arts performing Bollywood songs and Best Newcomer at the UK Asian Music AwardsDJ Jaz Dhami keeping up a regular beat of mixed music from the Main Stage.

The Town Gardens had to be cleared of all its delighted and sun kissed festival goers by 6-15 pm to make way for the evening showpiece the Bowl Concert. Bhangra singer songwriter Sukshinder Shindawas performing at the all ticket event and a large crowd was expected to hear the man who in 2008 was the winner of two UK Asian Music Awards for Best Album and Best Live Act.

By mid afternoon my Vivitar camera battery had given up the ghost and I was heading down the steep hill from from the festival’s venue in Swindon’s Old Town to my favourite watering hole The Merlin situated on more level ground. My thoughts had turned Asian and were filled with culture as I considered an evening at home with a packet of Chicken Tikka crisps and an Indiana Jones movie, I’d been truly bitten by the Mela bug.

MelaMelaMela


© 2009 – 2011, Martyn. All rights reserved.

14 thoughts on “HD and the Swindon Mela Festival

  1. Your The Mela Festival write up is fantastic Martyn. A very nice read.

    ‘bottled Tiger beer but soon faded after £3’

    OUCH! I really hate it when I see my favourite beer being so outrageous as that. Mind you, I’m no longer a Tiger drinker only. I love Singha too. And my NEW love is beer from Mandalay.

    Decisions, decisions…

    Ok, I fess… I love beer…
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: David Long =-.

  2. the one in Bradford UK is due soon i think i keep meaning to go there but forget every year i am home
    the food is good and the whole atmosphere as my sister pointed out is all in all a good day out
    the UK as some of the best outside of India with Singapore a close second

  3. John I read a little bit about the Bradford Mela in my local newspaper. It is 8 times bigger than the Swindon event and attracts about 200,000 visitors over its duration. In Bradford 60-70% percent of the crowd are Asian whilst in Swindon over 80% of them are British, that’s a big difference. You have missed this year’s event as it was held in June, there’s always next year.

  4. Catherine thanks for the kind words about my write up. Tiger is one hell of a nice drink but it tastes even better in the Land of Smiles, I guess that goes without saying. I would probably rate Beer Leo as my favourite as it’s a fairly safe not too strong type of beer. Could you explain the beer from Mandalay bit.

  5. Martyn, I drank Tiger for nine years when in Borneo and loved it over the Western beers. Cheaper never came into it because you had to go over the border on a booze run so might as well get what you want, right?

    But when I moved to Thailand, Singha took over as my beer of choice. Leo is also ok too, but I as it is stronger than Singha, and as I’m a girl, the Thais frown on strong drinking so I do succumb to local pressure.

    Both Mandalay and Myanmar beer have a lovely, rich taste. It could very well be formaldehyde but I’ll have to check once I get home.

    In the meantime, I’m sampling what I can. To, you know, get my opinion straight 😀
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Interviewing Successful Thai Language Learners: David Long =-.

  6. HD what an interesting read as I look forward to my bowl of cornflakes and coffee. I have visited the event in Bradford-truly amazing.

    A good cross cultural mix-imagine the same event in Thailand with a “British” exhibit- I wonder what it would be?

    BTW I hope to purchase a Canon EOS on Saturday so my retired Fuji will be waiting for you!
    .-= Mike´s last blog ..Cost of Living Thailand July 2009 =-.

  7. Great read. Looks like you had a good time other than the Tiger beer problem. Also looks like there were some very beautiful women there.

    I have to say I like my Tiger too but as always everything tastes better in Thailand.

    That Catherine sounds like someone we should drink with…
    .-= Talen´s last blog ..I Learned to Speak Thai Fluently & You Can Too =-.

  8. Martyn

    Hmmmm… this is what I get for posting on the run…

    Apologies, I was thinking Chang, not Leo. As you mentioned, Leo is indeed a light beer.

    On a side note, I always believed Tiger to be Malaysian. But after googling, I find that it is SQ’s first locally brewed beer.

    ‘Malayan Breweries Limited’

    Singapore was not a part of Malaysia at that time – Tiger came about in the 1930’s, and Malaysia did not become into being until the 1950’s.

    Talen… ‘That Catherine sounds like someone we should drink with…’

    😀

    c
    .-= Catherine´s last blog ..Thai 101 Learners Series: A Breath of Fresh Air =-.

  9. Mike I somehow deleted my reply to you and Talen so here we go again. From what I have read the Bradford event must be a truly amazing event and extremely loud. If you still have your Fuji when I get around to visiting the lovely Hua Hin again then I will make you an offer for your camera. Happy Birthday to Doy and MTF.

    Talen the women were very beautiful indeed and as you know Asian women take some beating on that count. The Tiger was a little pricey but it is imported beer so it wasn’t too much of a surprise. I don’t know about you but I’ve got a feeling that Catherine might drink me under the table.

  10. Catherine your comments are great whether on the run or at a standstill. It doesn’t matter where Tiger came from I just think it’s a top beer. I really do like sitting in the sun and having a cool glass of Leo or Tiger, it makes all the hours and hard work seem worthwhile. Maybe one day we will all get together for a beer or two. Cheers.

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