What began as a small Jackson Heights cultural celebration has in three years become a busy and highly diverse festival.
The third annual Chatpati Mela, held by housing advocacy nonprofit Chhaya CDC, brought both neighbors and visitors from across the City to Jackson Heights’ 78th Street plaza, next to Travers Park.
Stands offering samosas, dumplings, henna tattoos and bright clothing lined the street, with a panipuri eating competition at the center of the activity. Panipuri is a fried, bite-sized street snack popular in several South Asian countries.
Tenzing Chadotsang, Chhaya CDC deputy director and the day’s first panipuri eating contest winner, said Chatpati Mela has evolved rapidly since its conception.
“We started it about three years ago and it was just a small community event,” Chadotsang said. “We didn’t expect it to grow as much as it has.”
“It’s become more about people wanting to showcase their talents. Then we realized that there’s a need for South Asians to have that kind of forum,” Chadotsang added.
He said that Chhaya CDC aimed to showcase little-known artists who represented a wide range of South Asian heritages.
This year’s festival included performances from Dance Theater of Neptal, the Bangladesh Institute of the Performing Arts and dance group Habibi Express.
Chadotsang said that Chhaya CDC is looking to continue expansion of the festival, although he cannot envision it taking place anywhere other than 78th Street Play Street.
East Elmhurst resident Nadia Ahmad was attending Chatpati Mela for the first time. “It’s exceeding my expectations,” she said.
“I think getting at the different groups within the South Asian community and understanding the diversity within one area is actually really important,” Ahmad continued.