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Community life: Marathi Mandal connects expats from the Indian state of Maharashtra
Why did you set up Belgium Marathi Mandal?
The group was formed in 2017 by eight members because there was not much community activity for our region compared to other countries. The purpose was to connect the Marathi network, to create a community where we can come together to celebrate our traditional festivals and enjoy special food. Each person has a unique experience in Belgium to share.
How does Marathi culture differ from other Indian states?
Each region in India has its own characteristics. Maharashtra is the largest state; the official language is Marathi, but most people are multilingual and may also speak Hindi, Gujarati and English. Cities in Maharashtra are metropolitan and a blend of many cultures. People are not defined by their language, but by festivals, customs, music and art. Whatever language people speak, everyone comes together to celebrate its festivals. I think that’s the uniqueness of Maharashtra.
Describe Marathi culture?
Marathi culture is defined by everything, from its language, festivals, sanskars (rites of passage), food, social habits, music and arts. All festivals in Maharashtra are celebrated with abundant fervour and enthusiasm. Ganesh (pictured, above) and Diwali are our main festivals and our favorite cultural food is Puran Poli (sweet flatbreads).
What are Marathi Mandal’s main events?
Each year, we organise three events that are regional festivals: Makar Sankranti, Gudi Padwa (Maharashtrian New Year) and, everyone’s favourite, Ganesh Festival (pictured, above). We have screened a regional language film in Brussels (the first Marathi movie screening in Belgium; pictured, below). We also held a charity event to support a grassroot level organisation in Maharashtra, where we were honoured to be joined by social worker and philanthropist Dr Prakash Amte.
In April, we will celebrate the Maharashtrian New Year. We are planning online events: a special campaign to shares stories about the positive experience of Maharashtrian people in Belgium. People coming together is the main essence for us. We want to use our platform to share individual journeys, whether someone is a homemaker, a working person or a student. We also plan online competitions for children: painting and art workshops. We have set up a WhatsApp group for members so that we can try and support each other during confinement.
Do you interact with other Indian groups in Belgium ?
We have a big community in Belgium. When I moved here five or six years ago, there were just a few events, such as the Indian food festival, but now there are so many cultural organisations. We see that a lot of Indian expats are now settling here. Marathi Mandal is a registered organisation with the Indian Embassy. There was a recent case of a lady with a medical issue [with her husband]. The embassy contacted us because the lady was Marathi speaking, so we could easily reach our network and help her with the hospital. This is just one example of how our community networking can help. Our members are scattered across Belgium. Membership is free and open to everyone from Maharashtra.
Is the Marathi community involved in Belgian life?
A lot of people I know speak French and Dutch as well. When I moved to Belgium, I did an integration course at the Huis van het Nederlands and I learned a lot about Belgium. People in our community enjoy the food here and we have a lot of local friends, which is why we see a lot of locals attending our events. We’re a platform that encourages integration.
Why did you come to Belgium?
I moved here in 2015 from the UK because my husband was hired as a R&D design engineer by Toyota Motor Europe. I now work as contract manager for Toyota Material Handling Europe. It was a big change to move to a different county and start all over again. But it has been a very positive experience. I think once you integrate, learn the language, it’s a very friendly and nice country to live in. I would recommend Belgium to anyone.
Find out more: Belgium Marathi Mandal