Khed Mela means “Sports Festival” in Punjabi. But for Canberra Punjabi Sports and Cultural Association (CPSCA) member Harjinder Dhindsa, it translates to much more.
Harjinder grew up in a rural village in the Mohali district of Punjab, India, where Khed Mela was a highlight on the annual calendar. It was an event he would walk sometimes 10 km to reach, a source of boyhood excitement and community connection.
Encompassing sports, games, activities, food and fun, the purpose of a Khed Mela is entertainment; yet the outcome is more than the sum of these parts.
“Growing up in a small rural village, there weren’t many televisions and cinemas around … We waited for the Khed Mela to come each year,” he says.
“It was such a wonderful occasion and communities came from far and wide to have fun together.
“I remember my parents would give me a bit of pocket money to buy sweets and toys and to go on rides, and we would watch people wrestling and playing Kabbadi.”
A traditional contact sport played by males and females, Kabbadi could be described as a cross between wrestling and an intensely competitive and fast-paced game of “tag” or “tips” for adults.
The Punjabi style is played on a circular field with two teams each designated half, and a “pala” (entry/exit space) marked in the centre. Each team has four “raiders” and four “stoppers”. Using a simple points system in “raids” lasting 30 seconds, one raider on the offensive team must run into the opposing team’s half of the court and touch out as many of their players as possible, without getting tackled by the defending team’s designated stopper.
The gripping game will play a central role when the CPSCA brings Khed Mela to Canberra for the fourth year.
Designed to bring together the entire Canberra community to discover the Punjabi culture in the most fun way, organisers have gone all out to ensure something for everyone.
The day will include more modern sports such as soccer and volleyball, as well as athletics events for kids and adults. There will also be fun party-style games including tug-o-war, musical chairs and turban tying.
Those looking to take it a bit easier can join the traditional card game Seep, or browse information stands and retail stalls selling everything from Indian clothes and shoes to jewellery.
Henna and face painting will be available on the day and every hour on the hour there will be a raffle draw with amazing prizes to be won including a plane ticket to India.
Live music will come courtesy of well-known Punjabi singers all the way from India and Canada. And of course, there will be food – lots of it.
Expect typical Punjabi meals such as butter chicken, naan and rice, short eats such as pani puri, samosas, tikki (spiced vegetable patties) and pakora (fritters), Indian desserts such as gulab jamun (doughnuts) and jalebi (a deep-fried batter soaked in syrup), drinks including Indian Masala tea, mango Lassi and much more.
Last year, Canberra’s Khed Mela attracted 3000-4000 people. This year, about 5000 are expected.
Harjinder, who came to Australia in 1991 and who has lived in Canberra for two-and-a-half decades, is an active member of the Australian Sikh Association, co-founded the CPSCA in 2014 and is the current president of the Federation of the Indian Associations of ACT (FINACT).
He says at its core, the festival is about one thing: inclusion.
“The Punjabi culture is a very rich and very old culture, and we want to invite people to know us, who we are, and what we do,” he says.
“Punjabi Australians have contributed a lot to the community here, and it’s important to us that our neighbours know us. That’s why the event is free.
“As with the Khed Mela at home, the invitation is wide open. Please, come, bring your families, friends, neighbours and colleagues. If you have a traditional dress from your culture, please wear it – so we can know about you, and you can know about us.”
Khed Mela 2023 takes place from 10 am to 6 pm on Sunday 1 October at Taylor 1 Sportsground, Trevor Gibson Way, Taylor – click here for more information.