Hundreds of suburban residents gathered Sunday in Naperville to celebrate Indian Independence Day at Central Park, forming the largest crowd in the event's history.
For the past six years, members of the Indian community and others have come together on or around Aug. 15, the anniversary of the day in 1947 when India broke free from British rule, to raise the Indian flag and celebrate their culture.
"It's just a matter of national pride, celebrating our independence day," said Shree Gurusamy, the event's cultural coordinator and emcee. "We are actually exposing people to the Indian culture, to the food, the jewelry, the Indian art."
The patriotism began with the singing of the Indian national anthem, led by a youth choir from the Veenagana School of Music in Woodridge. Their voices from the stage of the Naperville Community Concert Center were soon joined by the hundreds of others who knew the words. One member of the choir, Pranav Upadhyayula, accompanied the song on his violin.
At end of the song, a call and response between the stage and audience began.
The people on the stage yelled "vande matarem!" and the crowd yelled "jai hind!" while raising fists in the air. Gurusamy said the phrases were patriotic slogans proclaiming Indian freedom and saluting their country.
Following the national anthem, the main cultural part of the event started with professional Indian dance groups performing in traditional clothes. The groups were from dance academies in Naperville, Chicago, Bolingbrook and other communities.
For the most part, the transition from last year's venue, the Municipal Hall, to Central Park went smoothly, with the notable exception of the sound system on the stage. With no microphone to address the crowd, organizers and speakers had to amplify their voice to the hundreds in the audience with a hand-held bullhorn, to varying degrees of success.
One speaker not impeded by the lack of microphone was Naperville Mayor George Pradel. When it was his turn to speak, Pradel skipped the bullhorn and bellowed his words out to the crowd.
"As you are entertained today, remember the independence of your country, remember each other and remember those who have fought hard for independence, and we hope that today will be a special day for every one of you seated here. Long live the independence!" he said.
The celebration also featured a marketplace with booths from several Indian-American businesses. There were three Indian restaurants there as well, selling an assortment of Indian cuisine.
The India Independence Day celebration was organized by the City of Naperville, the Alliance of Midwest India Associations and the Naperville Indian Community Outreach board.