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Countdown begins in east London for May 14 Mela Bengali festival at Bethnal Green

PUBLISHED: 12:00 04 May 2017 | UPDATED: 15:51 04 May 2017

Previous Baishakhi Mela in 2011. Picture: REHAN JAMIL

Previous Baishakhi Mela in 2011. Picture: REHAN JAMIL

Rehan Jamil

Preparations for the biggest celebration of the Bengali New Year in Europe are under way in east London with less than a fortnight to go.

Remote-control robot thrills little girl at 2016 Mela in Bethnal Green's Weavers Fields. Picture: MIKE BROOKERemote-control robot thrills little girl at 2016 Mela in Bethnal Green's Weavers Fields. Picture: MIKE BROOKE

The Sunday Boishakhi Mela on May 14 is the cultural highlight in the Bengali calendar which attracts 60,000 revellers from all over the country.

The free family fun day staged by Tower Hamlets Council begins at 11am in Spitalfields with a street parade from Buxton Street, off Brick Lane, leading to the festival at Bethnal Green’s Weavers Fields off Vallance Road for a five-hour festival from 1pm.

But the annual celebration has had a chequered history, with battles over who gets the licence to organise it before it was eventually brought back under council management and switched last year from Victoria Park back to Weavers Fields.

Moving the event led to a town hall protest by campaigners wanting to keep it at Vicky Park.

This year’s Mela has age-old stories brought to life through music, song, dance and richly-decorated floats.

Town Hall protest over 2016 Mela being switched from Victoria Park back to Weavers Fields. Picture: MIKE BROOKETown Hall protest over 2016 Mela being switched from Victoria Park back to Weavers Fields. Picture: MIKE BROOKE

It starts in Weavers Fields at 12noon with a stage line-up of the best Bengali traditional and contemporary music and dance. Internationally-renowned Miles is this year’s headline act with a fusion of musical styles. Other acts include Bangladesh folk-singer Rinku, singers Himangshu Goswami, Laboni Barua and Gouri Choudhury and ‘Bollywood bonanza’ dance performances by Bolly Flex.

A ‘family and arts’ zone with creative activities from 1pm to 6pm includes Bengali arts and crafts workshops, storytelling and Bengali poetry and literature brought to life with talks and readings, while a ‘sports and wellbeing’ zone has workouts for the body and mind.

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