McLean County India Association

Tenth Festival of India September 17 on ISU Quad

McLean County India Association cordially invites everyone to the 10th Festival of India, Saturday, September 17 from noon to 6 p.m. on the Illinois State University Quad.

The annual event is an opportunity to showcase and share Indian culture and tradition with the community. It gives visitors the chance to learn about the history of India, and what makes the country unique.

Admission to the festival is free and open to the entire community.

The festival will present Indian States Parade, Children and Adult Cultural Program, Bollywood Band, Workshops on Yoga, Meditation, Pranayama, and BollyX (Bollywood Dance Fitness). The day will also offer Henna and Face painting, Crafts and Jewelry, Indian sports for children, Balloon art and a Bounce house.

A variety of North and South Indian, and street food will be offered.

The Festival of India was awarded a Mirza Arts and Culture Grant from Illinois Prairie Community Foundation in 2016 and Harmon Arts Grant Award from Town of Normal in 2012! MCIA thanks both organizations for their generosity.

Sponsors include MCIA, Illinois State University’s Office of the President, College of Fine Arts, and Indian Student Association.

Karen: Local Women Affirm 'Common Pursuit of Peace and Prosperity'

Karen Fleming

The 20th Annual International Women’s Breakfast is March 5 at Eastland Suites in Bloomington. 

On this day in the Twin Cities, we affirm our support for women around the world in our common pursuit of peace and prosperity, and come together to learn from each other.”  Soroptimist International of Bloomington-Normal, League of Women Voters, and McLean County India Association co-sponsor this annual event that was started 20 years ago by the American Association of University Women.  Over the years, various women’s groups have participated in the planning and we welcome every women’s group in town to participate.  We are pleased to once again have corporate sponsorship from COUNTRY Insurance. 

What started as an opportunity for a small group of local women to learn about mission trips and programs that support women in other countries, has grown to over 200 women of all cultures coming together to learn about each other and discuss how issues that affect us individually usually affect women everywhere.  This year’s panelists include three local women – Senna Abjabeng of Mid Central Community Action’s Neville House; Hansa Jaggi, Realtor/Broker Coldwell Banker; and Stephanie Wong, Attorney at Law, Skelton and Wong. P.C., with Loretta Thirtyacre as moderator.

No matter where we are from, we are a community and try to make this event about finding common ground and common areas of interest through conversation.  For more information about IWDB, please call 309-454-2513 or email  Tickets are $25 payable in advance – payable to SIBN and mailed to 1416 Godfrey Drive; Normal, IL61761.

Women's Wellness Seminar Examines Indian Practices

Dr. Ashlesha Raut will share and discuss women's everyday health and well being through practice of our ancient medicine Ayurveda during the Women's Health and Wellness Seminar, from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Hindu Temple Of Bloomington And Normal, 1815 Tullamore Ave, Bloomington.

The event is open to all, please bring your friends to learn how we can integrate yoga, meditation, good diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle through Ayurveda, a 5,000-year-old system of natural healing that has its origins in the Vedic culture of India, Ayurveda has been enjoying a major resurgence in both its native land and throughout the world.

In the United States, the practice of Ayurveda is not licensed or regulated by any state. Practitioners of Ayurveda can be licensed in other healthcare fields such as massage therapy or midwifery, and a few states have approved schools teaching Ayurveda.

The seminar is co-sponsored by the McLean County India Association.

NIOT:B/N's Rao Among Extraordinary 'Ordinary' Nominees

Mandava Rao, right, during a 2014 tour of India's Chicago Consulate.

Mandava Rao, right, during a 2014 tour of India's Chicago Consulate.

NIOT:B/N leader Mandava Rao is among Collaborative Solutions Institute's 2015 Extraordinary Ordinary Men of the Year Awards -- a recognition of ordinary men in our community who make a positive impact on others through volunteering in their neighborhoods, faith communities, schools, and social service agencies.

The award recipients and all nominees will be recognized at an Oct. 15 dinner, at 5 p.m. in the Carol A. Reitan Conference Center at Bloomington-Normal’s Marriott Hotel. To purchase tickets to this event, visit

In addition to serving the NIOT:B/N Steering Committee, Rao was 2003 president of the McLean County India Association, and is a board member with For A Better Tomorrow, a global philanthropic group. He is a director with the Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal.

Other 2015 nominees include Grant Anderson, Merlin Anderson, Frank Beck, Bruce Bergethon, Anand Bhende, Robert Bosquez, Kevin Bradley, Hank Campbell, Phil Eaton, John Evans,  George Gordon, Paul Harmon, Jim Howard, Craig Luchtefeld, Mike McCurdy, Michael Predmore, Larry Taylor, Bill Tolone, and Doan Winkel.

Culture on The Quad, Communities Commingled

The Illinois State University quad came alive Sunday with dance, color, and camaraderie both among Bloomington-Normal’s diverse but united Indian “communities” and between the cities’ Indian and non-Indian neighbors.

This year’s fifth annual Festival of India buoyed McLean County India Association (MCIA) President-Elect Archana Shekara, an ISU assistant professor of graphic design. But for Shekara, whose academic and personal worlds cross many cultures, the fun and fellowship are prelude to what she hopes to be an expanded outreach to and understanding with the community.

The first festivals were held at first the McLean County Museum of History and then Miller Park, “but since I teach here, I thought it would be so nice if we could do it here,” Shekara related.

“It’s a great collaboration between this university and the Indian community, the McLean County India Association,” she said. “People learn from each other – we’re having fun at this festival, but they’re also learning.”

The festival officially kicked off with the traditional Deep Prajavalan ceremony (see top photo at right) – the lighting of a lamp fashioned from flowers by Bloomington’s Krishna Flowers and Gardening -- led by 2015 MCIA President Uma Kallakuri, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner, ISU’s College of Fine Arts Dean Jean M.K. Miller and Provost Janet Krejci, and Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal leader and Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal board member Mandava Rao.

In addition to onstage music and dance from throughout the subcontinent, the event featured Indian fashions, crafts and decorations, and spiritual, health information, and educational booths, as well as face-painting, a “bounce house,” and balloon animals. Representatives of the Twin Cities’ Hindu temple were joined by  members of Bloomington’s International Society for Krishna Consciousness – a local Hare Krishna group.

The festival also showcased Indian art including rangoli -- patterns created on the ground or floor traditionally using materials such as rice flour and often placed at the doorway of a temple or home, “welcoming people and warding off evil,” said Shekara, an ISU College of Fine Arts Service Award recipient.

Visitors feasted on a hefty “lunch thali” combination plate featuring either paneer masala and or vegetable biryani (a rice dish) or samosas (savory pastries) – according to Shekara, all vegetarian to bridge the various dietary/cultural traditions of India’s diverse regions. The festival drew Indian-Americans, temporary Indian workers, and others from at least 14 Indian states – an impressive feat of coordination a myriad of customs, preferences, and attitudes designed to “celebrate our diversity and our unity.”

“The first thing that we tell people is that ‘we are Indians -- leave those cultural differences aside,’” Shekara stressed. “We all come together and celebrate India as a country, and celebrate the similarities. We all speak different languages -- Uma and I speak a different language at home. Uma speaks a language called Telugu, and I speak Kannada. And we speak English -- that’s what unites us. It’s a ‘foreign’ language; it’s not even Indian.”

But the Festival of India also is an invitation to the non-Indian community. “More and more” Twin Citians from other cultures have dropped by for a new experience or to meet their neighbors or coworkers, reported Shekara, who canvassed “every organization I could think of” to promote the festival.

A long-time MCIA volunteer who originally “was just having fun doing it,” eventually recognized “all these little gaps that are there in the community.” The Hindu temple provides a focal point and “an identity” for the cities’ disparate Indian communities, but events like the festival provide a way both to “connect those dots” and to reach out to the community in which Bloomington-Normal Indians live, work, eat, and shop, but from which some may feel disconnected.

Shekara and the MCIA are working to connect the microcosmic Indian community with the community at large. She recently attended Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal’s annual strategy planning meeting, and has provided cultural training and certification for local day centers “trying to understand their customers who leave their children.”

“The festival is bringing a lot of non-Indians onto the quad and trying to help everyone understand a little bit of Indian culture,” Shekara said. “But more needs to be done.

“When I teach my students about cultural identity, my students tell me I’m the first Indian that they’ve interacted with, let alone teach. And then I teach European graphic design – Swiss graphic design – and I teach it with an accent. I kept thinking about all this, and I thought, ‘Maybe as a president-elect or as a president next year, I need to do something more than the festival.

“I invited (NIOT:B/N’s) Mike Matejka to come and talk to my class. If I’m a minority and I start talking, they’re going to think, ‘Oh, she’s just complaining.’ But when you bring in a Caucasion who starts talking about diversity issues, that’s when people just start listening – it’s different. Just a person’s color completely changes everybody’s attitude and mentality.

Archana Shekara signing prints. (Photo by ISU College of Fine Arts)

Archana Shekara signing prints. (Photo by ISU College of Fine Arts)

“So then I thought I needed to start going and meeting people in the community. That’s when we start having conversations. These conversations bring us together, and then that’s when we realize we are not the ‘other’ – we are all the same. We are just all so caught up in how we look that we forgot, and then we are self-conscious. But we are the same – we have the same heart, we have the same thinking. But there’s a little bit of a gap in the community – we see that especially in the workplace.”

Festival of India Sunday on ISU Quad

Block out part of your Sunday afternoon for a taste of another culture at the 5th annual Festival of India, from noon to 6 pm. tomorrow on the Illinois State University quad.

The festival, presented by McLean County India Association and Illinois State University, will feature workshops on yoga meditation, and Pranayama (breath control) and a Rangoli folk art display. Other highlights will include a picture studio with Indian clothing, displays and a parade focusing on the various states represented by Bloomington-Normal's diverse Indian/Indian-American community, henna and face painting, Indian youth sports, balloon art, a bounce house, a culture program, and a Bollywood band influenced by India's major film industry.

Here are some samples of last year's festival, from the McLean County India Association.

Festival of India Offers Taste of Country's Diverse Culture

One of the Twin Cities' key communities will offer a sample of and insights into its culture during the 5th annual Festival of India, from noon to 6 pm. Sunday, Sept. 13, on the Illinois State University quad.

The festival, presented by McLean County India Association and Illinois State University, will feature workshops on yoga meditation, and Pranayama (breath control) and a Rangoli folk art display. Other highlights will include a picture studio with Indian clothing, displays and a parade focusing on the various states represented by Bloomington-Normal's diverse Indian/Indian-American community, henna and face painting, Indian youth sports, balloon art, a bounce house, a culture program, and a Bollywood band influenced by India's major film industry.

ISU Professor of Graphic Design Archana Shekara, who has helped plan the festival, was on hand for Saturday's Not In Our Town: Bloomington/Normal strategic planning meeting. "I met some wonderful people shared and listened to great stories — a morning of reflection!" she said.

Shekara noted “each state in India has its own language and culture" -- the McLean County India Association attempts to bridge those regional  differences within the community -- and, with others at Saturday's gathering at Illinois Wesleyan University, stressed the importance of members of the community at large sharing Indian culture with those within the West Asian community.

Normal Theater to Host Asian Film Festival

In celebration of Asian-American Heritage Month, AsiaConnect will present the 2015 Asian Film Festival from Thursday, April 9, through Sunday, April 12, at the Normal Theater.

The cost of the event is free for students with an ID and $7 for general admission.

The festival will feature four theatrically acclaimed movies from China, South Korea, India and Japan including:

  • Shadow Magic (Ann Hu, 2000) [China], at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 9. The movie is a historical drama about the introduction of motion pictures to China during the beginning of the 20th century. It follows a young photographer who struggles to start a film industry in China despite the strong anti-Western sentiment of the time.
  • Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring (Kim Ki-duk, 2003) [South Korea], at 7 p.m. Friday, April 10. This film is Buddhist, but it is also universal. “It takes place within and around a small house floating on a small raft on a small lake, and within that compass, it contains life, faith, growth, love, jealousy, hate, cruelty, mystery, redemption … and nature. Also a dog, a rooster, a cat, a bird, a snake, a turtle, a fish and a frog,” stated the late film critic Roger Ebert.
  • The Lunchbox (Ritesh Bartra, 2014) [India], at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 11. Set in contemporary Mumbai, this film tells the story of Ila, a middle-class housewife who tries to rejuvenate her marriage through cooking. She prepares a special lunchbox to be delivered to her neglectful husband at work, but it is mistakenly delivered to another office worker, Saajan. This begins a series of lunchbox notes between Saajan and Ila, which leads to an emotional journey of self-discovery. They each find an anchor to hold onto in a big city that so often crushes hopes and dreams.
  • The Tale of Princess Kaguya (Isao Takahata, 2014) [Japan], at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 12. Based on a Japanese folktale, this animated fantasy drama tells the story of a young princess who must discover her past and confront her fate. Produced by Studio Ghibli, which created Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro, this sweeping epic redefines the limits of animated storytelling. It also marks another triumph for director Isao Takahata, acclaimed for his war-themed animated film Grave of the Fireflies (1988). The Tale of Princess Kaguya was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 87th Academy Awards.

AsiaConnect is an affinity group established to promote Asian cultures and represent the interests, needs and concerns of Asian faculty, staff and students.

This event is made possible by the generous support of Beyond Normal Films Cinema Arts Project, Downs Automotive, Inc., McLean County India Association, Normal Theater, Office of the President, Dr. and Mrs. SJ Chang, Center for Mathematics, Science and Technology, Crossroads Project, Department of Politics and Government, Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures, MECCPAC, Dean of Students Diversity Initiative, Office of International Studies and Programs, and Office of the Provost.

MCIA Sets 2015 Goals, Youth Open House

McLean County India Association President Uma Kallakuri has issued her goals for the organization and the Twin Cities' Indian community for 2015, as MCIA prepares for a February 21 youth open house from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal.

In a recent interview with NIOT:BN, Kallakuri emphasized the importance of reaching out to her community's youth. The following is Kallakuri's presidential address:

"Dear members of McLean County India Association,

The 2015 MCIA Committee and I wish you and your families a very happy, prosperous, healthy, successful and peaceful New Year!

I am greatly honored and humbled to be the 35th President of MCIA during 2015, one of the oldest organizations representing the Indian community in Central Illinois; the committee is looking forward to serving and working with all of you.

Thanks to the vision, foresight, and devotion of our founders, past presidents and their executive boards, and scores of dedicated volunteers, MCIA has come a long way. In the past few years we have fulfilled our purpose of promoting and sustaining the culture and heritage of India in McLean County. We personally thank all the volunteers and the sponsors, who are very critical for our organization’s continued success.

As we enter 2015 our vision becomes simple and clear:

Based on MCIA’s history of 35 successful years, we will plan and organize events and activities that will provide quality experiences and togetherness in the community.

To accomplish our vision we would like to focus on the 3 ‘I’s:

·  Inspire – Inspire the McLean County Indian community to participate in community activities and leadership programs.

·  Integrate - Integrate into the local community by providing more outreach and philanthropy programs in order to foster networking and mentorship by creating venues for people with similar interests.

 ·  Identity – Our youth are the future of tomorrow. We aim to encourage our youth to learn about their Identity through exposing them to Indian values, culture and traditions, thereby providing a platform for them to become future leaders.

To achieve these goals:

We request you to come forward as a volunteer, donor, and sponsor to help us in achieving these goals and to also provide us with valuable feedback.

Lastly, a lot of what we do here is only possible by the generosity of our valued members of the community. Once again, we are thankful for their time, energy, creativity, thought, financial and dedicated support. 

This is our organization - Our MCIA. I look forward to this year and our community coming together in support of McLean County India Association.

Long live MCIA.

Jai Bharat! God bless America!"

Portals to the Communities 2: McLean County India Association

MCIA celebrated 35 years in the community in November.

The McLean County India Association was established in 1979 to help bring social and cultural events to a then-small Indian community of less than 50 families. It has come a long way since then.

Over the last 33 years, MCIA has contributed significantly to social and cultural development in the Bloomington/Normal community. MCIA’s mission is to promote Asian Indian culture among its members and help Asian Indians become an integral part of the local community.

MCIA’s primary goals are:

* To promote Asian Indian culture and values among its members.

* To promote participation in community volunteer and charitable activities.

* To increase awareness about India and Indian culture in the local community.

* To promote leadership, volunteerism, sports, and educational activities for youth members.

For information, visit

Meanwhile, the Hindu Temple of Bloomington-Normal, 1815 Tullamore Ave, Bloomington, is preparing to welcome the New Year, from 11:30 p.m. to midnight Dec. 31. For details, visit