PALMETTO -- Whether it was for the curry, the dancing or the shopping, thousands of people were attracted Saturday to the third annual Manasota India Fest at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto.
Darson Patel, who just moved from India to Brandon, was all smiles as he watched the Dances of India culture program.
"I am enjoying it," Patel said. "This is like mini-India."
He learned of the event from friends, he said. Since moving, he said he doesn't encounter other Indians on a day-to-day basis.
"Today, I got to speak my language with many people," Patel said, smiling.
Attendees were also treated to authentic Indian cuisine from multiple restaurants and shopping for authentic India apparel, jewelry and spa treatments.
Devon Sullivan, a student at St. Stephen's Episcopal School, was enjoying a plate of one her favorite Indian dishes: butter chicken.
"I love to eat Indian food outside of this festival," Sullivan said.
She suggested sampling the saffron ice cream.
"I probably had more of it than I should have," she said.
She attended the festival the first year and was disappointed when she could not attend last year, she added.
"I think it's gotten a lot of popularity, and I'm very happy about that," Sullivan said. The most exciting part of the event, she said, was the dancing. She especially enjoyed when the audience was invited to participate.
"It was sorta Zumba-esque," she said.
Organizers said they were thrilled with the continued success of the festival, which is divided into two sessions every year to allow people multiple opportunities to watch the culture program.
Midway through the program during the second session, nearly 4,000 people had come through the door, organizer Biren Pathak said.
"People are really enjoying it, especially the way it is set up," Pathak said. "It gives a lot of information about the culture of India."
He said they welcomed any feedback so they can continue to improve the event.
"We're putting this event together for the community so we can learn about each other and build a long lasting, trusting relationship," Pathak said.
Vendors from the bay area and elsewhere in Florida said they were thrilled with the turnout, which made it profitable for them. Igna Balciuniene, owner of Florida Yoga Academy from Cape Coral, said the day was lots of fun and work. In addition to promoting her yoga studio, she offered a variety of authentic apparel and souvenirs from India.
"They love it," she said. "I think Americans like these clothes more than the Indians."
Diane Tucker of Palmetto was watching her grandchildren frolic near the stage as the dance program was underway. "We're having a great time," she said. "The food is wonderful." She came to the event hoping to learn a little bit about Indian culture and sample the cuisine.
"I'd love to go to India," Tucker said.
Jessica De Leon, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.