THUNDER BAY - What started as a small gathering in the Bora Laskin building 10 years ago, the Festival of India has grown in ways nobody could have expected.
Thousands of people attended Marina Park on Saturday to enrich themselves in the Indian culture that is growing year by year in Thunder Bay, the festival being a reflection of it.
Organizer Dr. Prashant Jani has seen the changes over the course of a decade.
"There are about 40 or so families and 600 students. It's always growing."
Jani said the festival gives Indian families, or students living away from home, a rare chance to reconnect with Indian culture.
"There are very few opportunities where so many people come together... Especially in Northwestern Ontario, it's kind of in the middle of nowhere so when students and people choose to come here, that's a positive point for them."
This year's event featured more than 22 artists performing on the main stage, including dancers from Florida and California, and musicians from Toronto and Calgary. Traditional snake-charm dancing was the highlight feature according to Jani.
He said dancing is a vital part of reconnecting with community and heritage in the Indian culture.
Los Angeles-based freelance dancer Malini Taneja made her third trip to Thunder Bay for this year's Indian Festival.
She says it's always a memorable experience when she comes to perform.
"It's a really solid Indian community who really love their culture and want to share their passion," she said.
Taneja's dancing is an adaptation of traditional folk dance from the Western Indian state of Rajasthan.
She's one of only 20 professional dancers in North America who perform this specific style.
"I grew up doing other Indian dance styles... but with Indian dances, it's very interconnected. You might learn one style, but there's similarities in a lot of them."
Taneja describes it as an energetic, vibrant, and celebratory dance style.
"We pay homage to the women we learned it from. I love Indian dance for it's storytelling element and it's spirituality. Dance is not just meant to be an entertainment, it's meant to connect to divinity."
With Thunder Bay's burgeoning Indian community and a strong sense of cultural tradition, it makes for the perfect combination to celebrate.
"For a small town to be able to put on something like this, I think that's rare," Taneja said. "I don't even think you can find something like that in a big city... it's very inclusive here."