Bollywood Dreams? The Rise of the Asian Mela as a Global Cultural Phenomenon

Melanie Smith
Elizabeth Carnegie


This article will examine some of the complexities inherent in the development of Asian Mela festivals from small-scale community-based events in India, to national celebrations of Diasporic culture in Western countries. Like Caribbean Carnivals, Melas are becoming more popular as a global cultural tourism phenomenon and are increasingly being promoted to white and tourist audiences. This similarly engenders fears of cultural dilution, distortion, and ‘Othering’. The programming of Melas is apparently keeping pace with the exporting, re-packaging and hybridisation of other forms of Asian culture, such as cuisine, music, fashion, and cinema. But does this symbolise a Bollywood dream or just another post-colonial appropriation of indigenous or Disaporic cultures? Cultural protectionism is certainly a contentious issue within Diasporic communities, where inter-generational differences of opinion can lead to conflict and confusion. Identity construction is complex and worthy of further examination in the context of Melas, which traditionally served to celebrate ethnic community and folk cultures and identities, but are increasingly becoming a showcase for global and hybridised cultural forms. The article will examine these issues, as well as providing an analysis of the factors and mechanisms that are driving the development of Melas forward. This will include the role and vision of artistic directors of Melas, the contribution of ethnic communities to cultural continuity, and issues relating to audience and tourism development. A case study of the Edinburgh Mela will be presented, which exemplifies a number of the aforementioned issues, focusing in particular on national and Diasporic identity construction, and the tensions between popular and traditional cultural forms.


Mela festival; diaspora communities; hybridisation; popular versus traditional cultural values

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