PRAHARSHA – The Festival of Hope & Happiness

Asha-UF’s cultural event in early Fall attracts a large audience every year. The article provides a peep into the making of Praharsha – the festival of hope and happiness.

To be efficient as local organization at the chapter level, it becomes very important to reach out to the community and let them know who we are and what we do. The health of the chapter depends, to a great extent, on how well it is established in the region. As a chapter in a relatively small University town centered around the University of Florida (UF), what better way to do this than hosting a grand cultural show with top class performances and amazing Indian food!? The UF chapter has been hosting the event, called Praharsha, during mid-September every year since 2007. Praharsha is a platform to celebrate art and culture with the local community, welcome new students at UF, and create awareness about Asha. Starting June every year, we meet once a week for Praharsha preparations, in addition to the chapter’s regular meetings. Over the years, our predecessors have debated, experimented and come up with a good recipe – a 90 minute program with a classical singing program, 2-3 classical dance performances, 2-3 Bollywood singing performances (Bollywood here encompasses whole of Indian cinema), 2-3 Bollywood dance performances, 3-4 miscellaneous performances, including a couple of ‘non-Indian’ performances. How do we get so many artists to come together for a single event? This to us, is the one big distinction between hosting Praharsha and organizing concerts. Coordinating and arranging quality performances is a lot more effort, but also the single major factor which makes Praharsha completely an “Asha-UF event”. It is as engaging for the audience, to watch their peers unfold their talent on a big stage. We start by contacting well-known groups/bands who will be a good addition to the show. We then fill the remaining slots by hosting auditions (That’s right, we have auditions). That is the point when few art-illiterate folks like myself get to sit down with the experts, like reality show judges, and press the buzzer (just to clarify, we do not have real buzzers during our auditions. We are kind people).
The design team works on flyers, posters, and a big backdrop for the stage, which showcases the goal of our group in creative and eye-catching manner. The publicity gets under way in parallel when sufficient material is ready. Generating enough publicity to attract over 1000 people is by no means an easy task that can be done by a couple of FB posts. We put up flyers at all attractive locations in town, hand out flyers manually at important hubs, approach newspapers, radio stations, talk to people at orientation and other programs, and of course, flood social media with updates. The next big attraction at the event is free Indian dinner. Yes, we provide free and sumptuous dinner for 1000 people! We attempt to work out the logistics with multiple vendors to offer great food to our guests, at least cost. Oh, and did I mention the entry is completely free? Zero revenue from the event! We cover all the expenses (food, publicity, design and decorations, and AV arrangements), which usually amount to around $4000, through sponsorships and UF funds. We set out on the sponsorship drive to restaurants, companies, and individuals, to raise funds in return of publicity for their own business. All of this happens with most volunteers being occupied with regular Asha meetings, Shramdaan, Team Asha activities, and their own academic deadlines!
Finally, after hundreds of man-hours behind the scenes, comes the big day. Revisiting Praharsha ’14 – it was a fabulous event! It was one of those times when everything clicked… the performances were great, the turnout was huge and diverse, dinner was delicious, and people had a splendid time! But it certainly wasn’t a smooth ride all along. Whether it be a misplaced backdrop, or instructions from UF personnel prohibiting food from third party caterers, event day execution blunders or the usual frustration by burnt out volunteers, Praharsha ’14 had more than the usual share of goof-ups. After the show, all the pressure was forgotten and the horrors transformed into fun tales to narrate. We could visualize, within the span of 2 months, a team slowly gelling and working together for a bigger cause. To emphasize more on the cause, we lined up the hallway with project posters and took some time in between the event to educate the audience about Asha, our goals and methods. Few months or even years down, some people may remember the amazing performances, some may remember the decorations, some the awesome food, or simply the fun time they had that evening at the “Asha-UF event”. Someone may stray into one of our meetings, and say “Hey, I’d like to volunteer too.”, and that is the greatest revenue Praharsha would generate.
PS: What is the first thing we needed to do after packing up Praharsha ’14? Reserve the hall for Praharsha ’15… get back to work, people!

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